On Wednesday, March 11, the Putnam County High School boys soccer team took the field at Al Reaves Stadium to do battle with Union County.
It had been a much-anticipated matchup between the powerhouse teams and it served as a big home region game for Putnam after Union County knocked off the War Eagles in the 2019 state playoffs. A quiet redemption was on the minds of the Putnam boys and it appeared the game could be in jeopardy after lightning stopped the girls game two hours earlier.
The omnipresent rain and lightning had been a big part of the local high school soccer scene earlier in the young season in what people would come to know as “the month-long rain delay.” Postponements and cancellations marred the schedule, causing Putnam to come into this huge game with a meager 5-0 record on the season.
But this game made it into the record books as Putnam fell behind 1-0 before roaring back for a 5-1 victory. The victory was etched in the annals of history, but the record books had no idea how to record what was about to happen next in soccer and all spring sports.
No one knew that would be the last game of the season for everyone. The novel coronavirus, which causes the disease COVID-19, had erupted into a world pandemic and spread like wildfire, causing the suspension of all spring sports and the inevitable suspension of in-person school activities.
COVID-19 was coming and no one knew what to do. It was an invisible monster and it hit everyone hard, particularly Putnam soccer. The War Eagles were projected by some to reach the state finals and bring the gold back to Putnam County.
It didn’t happen and the season was lost. Gone forever and reduced to an asterisk in the record books. Reduced to extreme disappointment in the hearts of the Putnam seniors. And gone forever with only their memories intact and those hearts in pieces. Until last Friday night.
With a final record of 6-0 and a four-year record of 57-9-3, the War Eagles met again, this time to say goodbye for the last time and proudly hang their jerseys on the goal post of the home net, shredded only by COVID-19 but never for not showing up as the eternal victors of a battle hard fought. For four years. Even in defeat.
The jersey hanging ceremony, organized by community coach Donna Silva despite the obvious obstacles, was held to remember and honor the seniors for a season that “could only have been.”
“Dang it guys,” exclaimed Putnam coach Rhett Roberts in his opening remarks. “It took a global pandemic to stop us. The world had to catch on fire to beat us.”
The win over Union County turned out to be bittersweet but Roberts was proud of the win for his seniors.
“We had one month of not playing and we were ranked first,” he said. “We fell behind but we fought back and took a 5-1 lead and just destroyed them.”
The five seniors honored included Luis Lopez, Victor Hernandez, Brenton Nelson, Rusty Nichols and Bryan Arreola. Three other seniors were unable to attend and they were Eduardo Gonzalez, Kevin Alday-Romero and Bryan Alday.
“We did what we could to pull this ceremony together,” Roberts said. “This was a bittersweet moment. It was good to be able to say goodbye for what they were able to accomplish. I’m looking forward to what we have coming back next year.”
Community coach Mark Silva spent 11 seasons on the Putnam sidelines alongside his wife Donna. They too were saddened by the loss of the season.
“It was sad the way it ended,” Mark said. “I’ll be honest, it was probably the best team we’ve ever had. We just didn’t get to see how far we could take this.”
Donna has served Putnam as both a community coach and “Team Mom.”
“We’ve had teams come in here and not only be intimidated by the field but also by the boys,” she recalled. “Our guys have been after us for years. We learned when we first started at Gatewood that if we didn’t stripe the field or cut the grass, it wasn’t going to happen. It wasn’t going to get done.”
Roberts was quick to point out all the credit goes to Mark and Donna.
“Mark has forgotten more about soccer than I have learned and know right now,” he said. “Donna does the work of 10 people.”
At the end of the ceremony, Mark announced he and Donna are retiring after 11 seasons on the Putnam sidelines where they compiled a record of 142-41-5.
“Dang guys! It took a global pandemic to stop us. The world had to catch on fire to beat us.”