When a sea of jubilant West Potomac High School football players, students and cheerleaders congregated in the middle of T.C. Williams' field last Saturday, seconds after defeating the highly touted Titans, the scene not only marked the beginning of a new era of football for the Wolverines, but, more importantly, the unification of two traditional rivals into Fairfax County's brand new high school.
"Winning," said one senior, "has a way of getting one back on course."
West Potomac High School is the offspring of a merger of two high schools, Fort Hunt and Groveton, that had upset parents and students in both communities. To compound matters, the schools had had a rather strong sense of rivalry -- some would say a disliking -- for one another before the merger.
So the big question this fall was, what would happen the first few weeks of school?
"Everything has worked out just great. At first we expected riots and bad things . . . but everything has turned out fine," said senior Megan Fogarty, a cheerleader for the Wolverines. In fact, the transition has gone so smoothly that there have been "less fights now than when the schools were separate," according to Sydney Patrick, a junior running back with the team.
Meshing of the two schools has exceeded school administrators' expectations, according to West Potomac Principal Paul G. Douglas.
He described the transition as "dramatic. It's clearly much better than I expected."
Douglas, who is the former Groveton High School principal, added, "It's a new start that gets everyone excited."
Indeed, the record of West Potomac's new football team just four weeks into the season -- four victories, no losses and ranked number 11 -- has had a major impact on the school's unity and spirit.
"The spirit's been just great! The student body outstanding. From the onset the drill teams, the football team and cheerleaders blended together and did a great deal to set the tone for the school ," said Associate Principal John Travis, the former Fort Hunt principal.
But on Saturday the story and drama unfolded on the football field, a game that pitted West Potomac against last year's AAA state champions, Alexandria's T.C. Williams High School, a longtime powerhouse that walked onto the field with 17 straight victories in its pocket.
As the two teams took the field a crescendo of battle cries from the capacity crowd of 4,000 filled the air.
In championship fashion, T.C. Williams took the opening kickoff and marched 65 yards for the game's first score. Undaunted underdog West Potomac returned the favor, engineering a 64-yard drive, and, more importantly, convincing themselves that they belonged on the same field with the "mythical" Titans.
From then on the two heavyweights took turns exchanging punches and salvos in a clean, hardfought battle. In the end, a tenacious Wolverine team, spearheaded by the play of running backs Reggie Ware and Ernie Lyles, came out on top. And Wolverine player Jay Moore could be seen doing aerial acrobatics in the wake of his team's celebration.
A message had been sent throughout Northern Virginia. A new team is soaring, making its way to the top. "I just love this feeling," a tired but exuberant Moore said.