Marietta, McEachern move on after tragedies

I’m heading over to Marietta tonight to watch the Blue Devils (1-1) take on McEachern (1-1) in an old Cobb County rivalry. It’s the Channel 2 Sportszone Game of the Week and you can catch it live at 7:30 p.m. on RTV (Charter Ch. 127 and Comcast 248) or see the replay at 1 a.m. on WSB-TV.

No matter the outcome of tonight’s contest, both of these storied programs will come out triumphant. Each has endured horrible tragedies since the end of last season.

Most people know about the tragic death of McEachern star running back Rajaan Bennett last February in Powder Springs. Bennett, a Vanderbilt signee and 1,800-yard rusher for the Indians, was gunned down by his mother’s ex-boyfriend in a domestic dispute.

Last week, McEachern retired Bennett’s No. 5 jersey in an emotional ceremony before the Lowndes game. More than 10,000 people attended and the Indians responded by upsetting Lowndes 23-22.

Lesser known to the general populous is the grief with which Marietta has been dealing. Bert Dodd, the Blue Devils’ offensive line coach for the last 15 years, passed away after an extended illness three days before Fathers Day. Dodd, 49, also happened to be the father of Marietta senior defensive end Tripp Dodd.

Like Bennett, Coach Dodd was a beloved figure at his school. That was evidenced by the overflow crowd that eventually had to be turned away at the visitation this summer. The team is honoring his memory by wearing a uniform patch that says, simply, “Coach Dodd.”

Of course, Tripp Dodd finds himself struggling with grief every day.

“He’s dealing with it,” Marietta coach Scott Burton said. “The firsts are the hardest. Last week was first home game. Homecoming will be tough. Christmas. Senior prom. Graduation.”

We often forget that there is so much more to being a high school coach than winning football games. Their locker rooms are brimming with problem-solving challenges that go far beyond who should start at left guard. Academics, drugs, homelessness, conflict and grief stare them in the face more often than victory or defeat.

Burton and McEachern coach Kyle Hockman have dealt with more than their share this year.

“It’s been difficult,” Hockman said this week. “Being back in February, there’s been some time now for us. We’ve spent a lot of time together as a team. I don’t want to say it’s been a positive thing because of course something like that isn’t. But I think it’s brought us closer as a group.

Said Burton, who coached in Virginia for 11 years before succeeding James “Friday” Richards at Marietta: “All of us have had to deal with it. I’ve gotten that 2:30 a.m. phone call where a player has been murdered. You spring into action. You go into survival mode. But it’s tough on you and it’s tough on the kids.”

Out of tragedy often comes inspiration, and that’s certainly been the case for both these programs. Bennett’s mother, Narjakeetha Bennett, started a foundation in her son’s honor (see www.rajaanbennett.info). There was a Walk-a-thon last Saturday. And this year’s team, one of McEachern’s best in years, has adopted the motto “Keep 5 Alive,” which it rallies around before every game.

“We talk about it,” Hockman said. “The kids are pretty level-headed right now. They’ve learned to use their emotions as fuel. It has taught the kids to do the right things every day because you’re not promised the next day.”

12 comments Add your comment

Yikes!

September 10th, 2010
1:07 pm

dogfish

September 10th, 2010
1:08 pm

Enter your comments here

GeoffDawg

September 10th, 2010
1:26 pm

As a Marietta alum and just as a human being, my heart and prayers go out to the families of both kids. Dealing with that kind of trauma as an adult is overwhelming. I can’t imagine having to go through that as a teenager.

godawgs678

September 10th, 2010
2:43 pm

These two programs surely have been through a lot. No matter which team wins tonight, both have been champions in staring tragedies in the face and remaining triumphant. Only one of these teams can win the game, but there is so much more to life than that and they are both champs in my eyes!

REAL Dawg Fan

September 10th, 2010
2:45 pm

ETo the Real MHS (Marietta) and McEachern good luck tonight after horrible tragedies. Coach Dodd was a great man, still feel bad because I was going to stop by and visit him bout 2 weeks before his death. Love u Coach, one of the best.

C-LO

September 10th, 2010
4:31 pm

Being a junior at marietta i agree that regardless of the outcome of tonites game both teams, both schools are champs by having had real role models by their side RIP COACH DODD AND RAJAAN . .Good luck to both teams and let the best win! LETS GO MARIETTA!!!

naganole

September 11th, 2010
12:40 am

Just to update all the people bashing JWJ, he went for 196 yards and 3 TDs tonight. He gonna own defenses running behind Trickett’s Olines in Garnet and Gold…

RomeDawg

September 11th, 2010
7:55 am

I hope the people in the community are able to find peace and rally around their football teams. Very sad on both sides. Having lost my father as an eleventh grader in high school, I know unfortunately the “firsts” never quit happening throughout life. My prayers are with both schools.

Louie

September 11th, 2010
9:22 am

Well, where do I start.

Another dramatic week in cow town folks…….
A.J. sells jersey, can’t play in thrashing doggies WILL get by the Cocks…..

Who will it be next week??

Stay tuned as ”How the dog suckkkks ” continues.

Aint life great being a Yellow Jacket………………………………………….

BOOGIES THE MAN FROM HARTWELL GA

September 11th, 2010
11:28 am

Anyone heard from Yellow Fuzz lately.

He was banned from UGA blog.
Life is good.

Wreckmaniac

September 12th, 2010
12:20 am

This young victim from McEachern, based just on what I have read here, is an example of the far too
common urban crime snydrome that we just pass off as “just another domestic tragedy”. This national
crime spree of boyfriends murdering their girlfriends children must get more attention. These crimes should result in automatic execution without 5 years of appeals.

Chip Towers

September 12th, 2010
6:37 pm

UPDATE: McEachern won 52-24 in a game that probably should have been neither as lopsided nor as close. I’ll explain. The game was actually tied at 21-all in the third quarter and Marietta had the momentum, even though this young, rebuilding squad probably should not have been able to hang with the Indians. But after a Marietta interception and double-personal fouls and an ejection on the run-back, McEachern out-scored the Blue Devils 31-3 the rest of the way. . . . My first chance to cover a game at historic Northcutt Stadium. Wonderful Cobb County hospitality. Thanks for having me and the whole Channel 2 Sports Zone Game of the Week. C-ya next week for Gainesville @ North Hall.