Wando football ‘something magical’

Grace Beahm/staff Signs along U.S. Highway 17 in Mount Pleasant show support for the Wando Warriors, including at Ye Ole Fashioned Ice Cream and Sandwich Cafe, where owner Bryan Cole got into the spirit Thursday.

MOUNT PLEASANT -- Business owners have turned their marquees into monuments to the No. 5 team in the state. Supporters will string a banner over a major overpass to let their team know they believe in them. And the booster club will hand out 4,000 towels tonight to help whip the crowd into a frenzy.

You can be in an office, a restaurant, the grocery store or even outside a church here, and the topic — and sermon — is high school football.

The atmosphere might seem like something out of the TV show “Friday Night Lights,” which celebrated big-time high school football in Texas. But it’s playing out in Mount Pleasant, a town unaccustomed to that kind of high drama on the field.

The Wando Warriors are 8-0 for the first time in school history and tonight will host the No. 1 Goose Creek Gators, who also are 8-0 and have aspirations of winning their second consecutive state championship.

It could be the game of the year in football-crazy South Carolina, and the town has buzzed all week in anticipation.

Are you ready for some football?

Wando Principal Lucy Beckham is.

“Everyone is talking about Wando football and I am listening,” Beckham said. “Wherever I am, wherever I look, I see business marquees: ‘Go Wando.’ ‘Go Warriors.’ ‘We’re proud of our Warriors.’ It lifts the heart. It’s like Mayberry.”

Mount Pleasant is a long way from Mayberry, and the Warriors were a long way from being one of the best teams in the state until this fall.

The Wando football team has been overshadowed by local powers such as Summerville and Stratford, but it also was in the shadow of the school’s other athletic teams.

The Warriors last year won the Class AAAA Athletic Directors Cup for overall sports excellence, and already have won two state championships in swimming this fall.

But in South Carolina, football is king.

“We’ve always had great success in athletics, but what gathers the interest is football,” Beckham said. “That was the one area we knew we had to improve.”

The Warriors have won state titles in soccer, tennis, volleyball, swimming and other so-called non-revenue sports. But those teams didn’t have the star power to draw 5,000 to 6,000 fans.

Wando school officials anticipate a crowd that big for tonight’s game, which kicks off at 7:30. Two area churches, a utility company and a tennis center will open their parking lots to help ease the congestion.

“It’s amazing how sports unite the community,” said Mount Pleasant businessman Paul Heinauer. “It’s cool to hear everyone talking about the football team. I get nonstop texts that give me updates.”

U.S. Highway 17 might as well be known as Wandoville, with scores of businesses showing their support.

That includes the Glasspro Pit Stop and owner Doug Clarke.

“People are talking about Wando football,” he said. “I never would have thought that Wando would be 8-0. There’s an energy out there in the community. It’s amazing that this energy is coming from our customers.

“There’s a couple who bring in two cars at a time. They saw our sign and thanked us for supporting Wando football because they have a son on the football team. They talk about 6,000 people showing up at a football game and that is amazing.

“Football, in this case, it helps you to get to know the customer a little better. What I like best is the story of Wando being the underdog, about a team recording firsts and setting records.”

Next door, Walgreens is selling Wando ChopHouse T-shirts for $9.99.

“They’re moving pretty good. They are selling,” said store manager Travis Eltzroth. “It’s good to see the football team having success, because it helps unite the community. I worked at the Goose Creek store last year and there was excitement there when they won the state championship there. The excitement is here too.”

The ChopHouse is a group of Wando students who form a cheering section. The group has grown to nearly 800 members on its Facebook page.

“The whole school is feeding off the success of the football team,” said Doug Davis, one of the ChopHouse leaders. “It’s great to see Wando students talking to adults about Wando football. Everyone’s talking. We support them at home and when they are on the road. We’ll meet at the parking lot at Moe’s and carpool from there. You form a bond.”

Allison Walshe owns Stowaway Storage, and she shows her support by posting “We believe” on her company’s sign.

“I am a band mom,” she said. “But I support Wando football and the school. As I drive up 17, I see that I am not alone. We may be different, but we are the same in support of the team. The team has worked hard. Coach (Jimmy) Noonan and his staff have worked hard. It’s something magical.

It’s about time that we got the ‘Friday Night Lights’ atmosphere here in Mount Pleasant.”