Prep Rally | Trip to Pentagon eye-opening for Manatee High football team

September 6, 2013 

Clustered in a big circle, the players and coaches who make up Manatee High's football team stood within walking distance of the site of an American nightmare last Sunday.

There was a football game to play in about seven hours, a season opener against a nationally ranked team from Baltimore, a game that would be played in a college football stadium.

First, however, it was Manatee's time to listen to Col. Ed Fleming, who stood inside the Pentagon Memorial and told the players all about Sept. 11, 2001.

He talked about the planes that hit the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and one that crash-landed in a field in Shanksville, Pa. He talked about why the terrorists chose those particular planes, which were big enough to cause lots of damage and filled with enough fuel to take a cross-country flight from Boston to Los Angeles.

He talked about how

the terrorists took flying lessons but never bothered learning how to land, and how scores of people who were inside the Pentagon that day, going about their daily business, became victims of the worst terrorist attack ever perpetrated on American soil.

I began asking myself why Col. Fleming was discussing the obvious. Surely these kids remember Sept. 11, 2001.

Then it hit me: No, they didn't.

We're approaching the 12th anniversary of the day that changed the world, which means even Manatee's seniors were no older than 6 when New York's twin towers came crashing down and a part of the Pentagon was hammered by a hijacked airliner.

I'm 35, and I can't recall a whole lot about 1984. Granted, no event that year was nearly as catastrophic as 9/11.

But who is completely aware of the world at 6?

So of all the things Manatee did last weekend -- a tour of downtown Washington, D.C., working out some kinks in the hotel pool, rack up an impressive 44-14 win over Gilman, Md. -- the trip to the Pentagon Memorial was the most eye-opening, and a big reason why trips like this are good for any prep sports team, not just football.

Yes, the finances have to be there (not a penny of district funds went toward Manatee's trip). And you have to be a blip on the national radar to score an invite to play an out-of-state game.

But trips like this should be about more than basketball or football or volleyball. They should be about Sunday morning, when Manatee's players and coaches met in the lobby of the team hotel and made the quick walk across the street to the Pentagon Memorial.

It's a heartbreaking monument to the 184 lives lost at the site during that Tuesday in September nearly 12 years ago. But it's American history.

And it's a piece of history the Hurricanes will take with them forever.

John Lembo, Herald sports writer, can be reached at 941-745-7080, ext. 2097. Follow him on Twitter at @JohnLembo1878.

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