Family. It’s a core principle of the Quince Orchard football program. Head Coach Dave Mencarini talks about family often. The players wear t-shirts that spell it out: F.A.M.I.L.Y.
And on a Friday night at the Cougar Dome, sitting in the stands next to the Red Army, in small clusters or in large groups, quietly and nervously or loudly and boisterously, are the families that give Cougar football its soul.
Few players had a larger cheering section at the recent Homecoming game than senior linebacker Clay Shelton-Jones. The youngest of nine children of a “yours, mine, and ours” family, Shelton-Jones recently had a dozen family members and friends rooting for him, not only during the game but at halftime when his name was announced as a Homecoming prince. Older sister Carlene had traveled with her family from Wilmington, Del., for the game, bringing two little nephews and a niece who adoringly watched their uncle.
Clay’s Mom, Barbara Jones, said she loves the Friday Night Lights atmosphere, but once the game starts she’s too excited to sit and has to walk around the stadium. “When the action gets going, so do I,” Jones said, “from one end to the next.”
Parents find many sources of satisfaction in watching their sons play football. Bob Webster, father of junior linebacker/tight end Jack Webster, said he enjoys “seeing your kid being part of something that you know they worked for … being part of something good.” Randy Mongold, father of senior co-captain and guard Scott Mongold, said he enjoys “watching my son play because I know he enjoys the sport and has fun.”
“They get to have fun,” echoed Janice Brown, who with her husband Michael has had three sons in the QO program. Malcolm is a co-captain, three-year starter, and highly recruited wide receiver and defensive back on this year’s team. Oldest son Markus was a key member of the 2007 state championship team and is now a shot putter at Clemson. Manuel was a running back the past two seasons, played in two state championship games, and is now at St. Vincent’s College in Pennsylvania. “I never thought it was going to be this exciting,” Michael Brown said.
Janice Brown takes great satisfaction “knowing that they love it, looking in their eyes, the glow and the gleam.” She said her sons each “matured in their own way” and “came into their own” under Mencarini’s influence and strict adherence to rules and responsibility. Dad Michael said he was proudest of “their grades.”
Dave Mannion, whose son Kyle is the starting fullback, said watching his son play takes him back to when he played high school football, though he quickly added that his son “is 10 times better.”
Of course, the familes aren’t there just to cheer for their own. “We’re cheering on our son along with all the other boys on the team,” said Lisa Brown, mother of senior middle linebacker Ben Brown. Many of the parents commented on the community and family-oriented atmosphere of Quince Orchard, and credited Mencarini and his staff for building that.
“Coach talks about family, but seeing what he did with his Dad and the game ball (when Mencarini gave the game ball to his father and assistant coach, Joe, after winning his 100th game) you realize that it’s more than just a slogan,” said Webster. “He lives up to the slogan.”
That family atmosphere has made a quick impression on Carol Parker, whose son defensive end/linebacker Lamonte Armstrong joined the team late in the summer after transferring from Bullis. “The experience has been amazing, incredible,” she said. “The team welcomed Lamonte and me. The parents are very welcoming. Even though this school is big, it’s like a private school, but just a lot more people.”
Aretha Montgomery, mother of highly recruited senior wide receiver/defensive back Elliott Davis, also mentioned the support of the Red Army and the community as one of her favorite aspects of being a football mom. “You have to come out so early just to sit with your family and friends,” she laughed.
Like any family, the football team sometimes eats meals together, which for the past two seasons have been the responsibility of team commissioner Cindy Tilton, whose son Connor is a senior defensive tackle. How do you feed that many teenage boys?
“It’s about 70,” Tilton said, “but really you have to multiply that by two.” She said she and the two other moms who assist her prepare pasta and sandwiches, set up lots of water and sports drink and “every week we just feed the troops.” She’s also assisted by youngest son Declan, who says he’s four years away from being a Cougar.
Cindy and her husband Kelly have had another son in the program, Keegan, who also played in a state championship game. “That’s a heck of a moment when they win that third playoff round,” Kelly Tilton said. “The feeling you get is just pure exuberance. You feel it for your sons, but the parents feel it, too.”
All of the parents said they will continue to attend QO football games even after their sons are no longer playing. “I’m going to come back. QO treats us like family,” said Barbara Jones. “I’ll be at every game,” said Michael Brown, and his wife added, “We’re going to root for these players and coaches.” Said Montgomery, “It’s the highlight of my weekend.”
Mannion acknowledged that while he will still come to the games, “there’s something about seeing your own kid out there that puts a little extra edge on it. You get emotional with the ups and downs of the game.”
And when the game is over and the lights start to fade in the Cougar Dome, after the band has packed its instruments, the Grilling Gourmets have quenched their coals, and most of the fans have left, the families cluster around the door leading from the locker room, waiting for the players. One by one they troop out — some bruised, some holding ice packs, many of them bone tired – but all still just teenage boys. They walk into the arms of their parents and grandparents and the adoring hand-slaps of little siblings or the playful punches of older brothers. And then they go off into the night together, as families.