Finding middle ground

Episcopal Day team diverse, but cohesive

"What are we out for?" hollered Ben Hankinson.


"Blood!" answered the 28 middle school boys huddled around him.

"What?" he asked again.

"Blood!" the boys returned, even louder.

"All right, go study. We'll meet tomorrow, shoulder pads and helmets," Hankinson said as he dismissed his troops.

Hankinson is head coach of Episcopal Day School's middle school football team. This year marks the first year EDS has had a football team, although students have played for the recreation department in previous years.

Hankinson coached the rec league team, and when Carol Trammell, the athletic director for the school, was organizing the school's team, she knew she wanted him to be the head coach. He agreed, eager to help since his son Crimmons, a fifth-grader, was going to play.

"I love being able to help him," Hankinson said.

He is joined on the coaching staff by Lee Prather, the special teams coach, and Joe Neal, the defensive coordinator. Both Prather and Neal have sons on the team.

If he could describe the team in one word, Hankinson said, it would be "extraordinary."

"They're playing hard, hitting hard, and they're giving us all they have," he said.

Support from the school and community has been extraordinary, said Hankinson.

"It's been amazing," he said of the support. "We've had more people in the stands than any of the other teams we've played so far."

The EDS team has boys from 10 to 14 years old, weighing from less than 80 pounds to more than 150. The way the team cohesively includes all the boys is another thing that makes it extraordinary, said Hankinson.

"We've got a lot of undersize guys playing bigger boys," he said.

Prather said the boys show a high level of toughness and respect for each other.

"The respect the eighth-graders have for the fifth-graders is incredible," Prather said. "That's what sets this team apart from others to me: their respect and character."

Jackson Prather, Lee Prather's son, is 11, in sixth grade and the team's current manager. He didn't feel like joining the team at the beginning of the year, but now he goes to every practice and plans on playing next year.

"I love action, so football is a good fit," Jackson said. "It's also good to learn team bonding and it's just so much fun."

Even though the team is playing for fun and in its first season, one of its players has already gotten some serious spotlight.

Gardner Duckworth is a 13-year-old eighth-grader who alternates between running back, quarterback and kicker. His 88-yard kickoff return in a game against Westminster was recently featured on News Channel 6 Football Friday Night 's Top Five Plays of the Week segment.

This wasn't against other middle school players either. Gardner was featured alongside star players at Laney, North Augusta and Williston-Elko high schools.

EDS is 1-2 with two games to go. It plays Edmund Burke in Waynesboro, Ga., tonight at 6.

As practice ended, the boys gathered up their gear and ran off to a waiting line of parents and cars. Coach Prather smiled.

"The boys are learning a lot," he said. "We three coaches, however, are learning more from them than they could ever learn from us."