Even longtime SouthWest Edgecombe football fans sometimes forget what’s coming. When kickoff rolls around, they’re still finding their seats or focusing on the field and – POW!
A cannon perched high above the north end zone, behind the backstop on the baseball field, fires a blast for every Cougars touchdown and the opening kickoff.
Then the siren starts. Then the church bell starts clanging.
It’s a high school football cacophony. Schools that rely solely on the PA and the band can’t match this.
On Friday, the trio welcomed Hertford County (6-5) in the first round of the N.C. High School Athletic Association 2A playoffs. SouthWest Edgecombe is 9-2 this season.
“Everybody likes noisemakers,” said SouthWest Edgecombe JROTC instructor Col. Mike Whitehurst. “We used to have fireworks out. We haven’t gotten the new principal into that yet, but we will.”
Whitehurst and his JROTC class have put together an orchestra of noisemakers. His students are the musicians and the ledge overlooking the baseball field where Whitehurst parks his truck and trailer is their stage.
The replica brass cannon is the only one of the three instruments that sits outside the truck.
Its only ammunition: gunpowder and old newspapers.
A student takes the paper and uses a ramrod to stuff it in the back of the cannon. The more firmly packed it is, the louder it is.
Whitehurst isn’t sure how many decibels it gets to, but the blast can be heard for miles.
The siren isn’t as loud, but you can hear it no matter what part of the stadium you’re on.
If a jackhammer is 95 decibels, the siren is a little lower and the cannon blast a little higher.
Why a cannon?
Twelve years ago, Whitehurst saw a cannon that gets up to 130 decibels used at East Carolina football games. The ECU JROTC class was in charge of upkeep.
He wanted to start something similar with his class.
So his students did a fundraiser, selling more than $1,200 worth of AirHeads candy to buy one. Whitehurst drove all the way to Florida to pick it up.
The cannon is a replica of the kind that were found on naval vessels in the 1800s.
His class did a practice firing, but it was a dud.
But when they tried again, cramming the newspaper as far as it could down the barrel with the ramrod, the blast set off car alarms in the parking lot.
The siren and the bell
The Klaxon siren, from World War I, was found in an antique shop by Whitehurst’s brother and was added later. It was designed for air raid drills and can go louder than 100 decibels, tough not for football games.
The church bell came last.
An old friend of Whitehurst’s called and, knowing his affinity for loud things, was told there was small church near Chillicothe, Ohio. They were giving away the old church bell for free.
So that night, he and his wife started driving.
“We didn’t realize it was a 500-pound bell, and good news was we happened to bring that trailer on, so we put it on that and brought it up,” Whitehurst said.
Whitehurst isn’t sure how much longer he’ll teach.
But the cannon and the bell will remain, he said, to keep the tradition going.
Players like that it sets them apart.
They even called themselves the “Boom Squad” a few years.
“It’s good for the kids. You know what we find out, we find out that we shoot off the cannon, we ring the bell, the football team does better,” Whitehurst said. “It’s become part of what we do, it’s part of the school.”