By Molly Seales
When football practice began back in June, the Riverdale Rebels were thrilled to have Coach Jared Smelser back on the field as their head coach. They had no expectations other than to practice hard every day and do their best every game. After losing powerhouse seniors Jackson Riggs, Dayton Brown, Tylar Bare, Justin Oliver, and Adam Bryant last year, the Rebels were expected to have a season of rebuilding with a number of underclassmen under Coach Jared’s leadership. Enter the Messenger’s. After several years of attending St. Mary’s in Natchitoches, which was much closer to their home, senior Paul and junior Jake Messenger announced their return to Riverdale and the Rebel football field. It wasn’t long until they had recruited their senior cousin, Parker Almond, who sat out his junior season, and their other cousin junior Ty “Bones” Jones, who also returned after a year of St. Mary’s. With the addition of these four players, the already strong Rebels set a goal: to go for a state championship.
Riverdale came out strong winning their first game against PVA by a score of 36-20. They lost the next two games, but they did not let their spirits get down. They practiced harder-fought harder-played harder-and lost only one more game the entire season. They enter the game Thursday against Manchester with a record of 9-3, poised to bring home the first ever football state championship for the Riverdale Rebels.
To this team, it’s more than going out on a Friday night to win and get cookies from Coach Jared’s wife, Cymantha, on Monday morning. It’s about passion. It’s about honor. It’s about integrity. It’s about family-their own and the Riverdale family. First year Riverdale principal Danny Rester told me, “This has been an excellent season of football for the Riverdale Rebels. We are blessed to have some of the best student athletes and coaches in the area, and they make us proud on and off the field. I am so excited to cheer them on to victory in the MAIS Class 2A Championship this Thursday! Go Rebels!” My mom, Bethany Seales, has a special connection with the senior football players Parker Almond, Witt Almond, Brennan Edie, and Paul Messenger. They were her first class of 7th graders when she started teaching at Riverdale 6 years ago. She said, “Those senior boys are something special-not just because they are good at sports. One of my greatest pleasures in life has been watching them grow from silly, awkward 7th graders into humble, God-fearing, mature young men. I was full of emotions Friday night after the win against Delta because I wanted them to have a shot at the championship more than anything I’ve ever wanted in sports. I’m so thankful they are getting this opportunity.” Parent Heather Jo Eddy Nettles, who is a graduate of Riverdale, has two sons on the team-juniors Kaden Cason and Chandler Nettles. She told me, “I am so very proud of all those boys! My two aren’t satisfied just yet and say they are chasing that ring, but I just want them to know that win or lose Thursday, they have accomplished something RA will remember forever.” Mrs. Kelly Azlin, a school employee and mother of senior #10 Brennan Edie had this to say, “ I couldn’t be more proud of our entire Rebel team for making it to the championship game and am especially happy for the seniors. Being a parent of a senior, this is an amazing way to end his final season of high school football. I know that personally, I will shed many tears when this game is over-tears of sadness because it signals the end of a sport that Brennan has loved and played since he was 5 years old. But there will be more tears of joy because I’m so excited for this team to go out on top! I am so grateful that these boys were able to have this kind of season with their awesome coaches, and I am truly blessed to have been along for the ride, cheering them all on!”
The game Thursday is special to all of us, but it has an extra special meaning to brothers-senior Parker, sophomore Ben, and 7th grader Ashton Almond. The last time, and we think only other time, the Riverdale Rebels advanced to the championship football game was in 1992-the year Will Almond, who is the father of Parker, Ben, and Ashton, was playing his senior season. That year the Rebels came so close to bringing home the championship. For Parker, that gives this game even more meaning. He said, “I am very excited and honored to have a chance to play in the state championship game like my dad did when he was a senior. Right now all we have on our mind is going out, playing ball, and bringing the trophy home to Riverdale.”
Excitement is definitely in the air at Riverdale. Monday morning Coach Jared arrived at school with a card from LSU Head Coach Ed Orgeron congratulating him and the Rebels and wishing them good luck in the championship game. Several weeks ago librarian Mrs. Joni Riggs put up a bulletin board in the hall that included pictures of the players and cheerleaders this season. Underneath the board there is a banner simply stating, “We Believe.” The Riverdale cheerleaders started the week off right by forking the football boys’ yards Sunday night. As students arrived Monday morning, they were greeted with a huge “We Believe” display in the courtyard between the gym and main building. Each day this week is a spirit day-Monday was white out day; Tuesday was red day; Wednesday is spirit day; and Thursday is black out day, which means wear black to the game in support of the Rebels.
Wednesday morning at 7:45 a.m. there will be a spirit walk at Riverdale where all the classes will be lined up to cheer for the football boys as they walk down the sidewalk. Family and friends are welcome to attend. Immediately following the spirit walk, the football team and cheerleaders will have breakfast served to them. Later in the day the boys will hit the field for one last walk through before they depart for Jackson, MS. Good luck Rebels! WE BELIEVE!