With past and future Catamounts looking on, the members of the Dalton High School boys soccer team and their coaches took a celebratory victory lap through the streets of Dalton Thursday afternoon.
Since winning the Class 6A state championship on Saturday with a 4-1 victory over Gainesville, the players have enjoyed the praise and recognition that comes with being state champions.
"It's brought up the spirit of the whole school," Dalton junior midfielder Manny Prieto said. "People walking up and congratulating us, and everyone has been smiling and happy."
The Dalton players and coaches boarded the back of a flatbed trailer in the parking lot at the school Thursday afternoon and were escorted down Waugh Street past cheering fans. On the corner of Waugh and Cappes streets, Blanca Meza stood with family members holding her phone in anticipation. Meza's son, Nestor Mendez, was the starting goalkeeper for the Catamounts this season, and Meza said the season was thrilling.
"This season, it was the biggest thing," Meza said. "I couldn't sleep. I got nervous before the semifinals but thankfully they made it through."
Mendez's younger brother, Fernando, watched from the corner, as well. The rising freshman at Dalton said he hopes to follow his brother and play for the Catamounts one day.
"It was exciting watching the team this season," Fernando Mendez said. "My brother was excited when they won because he got the medal (given to each player for winning the state championship) and was able to give it to my mom as a gift."
Lele Boggs, a 2004 Dalton graduate, and Lindsay Lofty, a 2006 Dalton graduate, were also on the corner as the team went by, accompanied by their small children. Boggs and Lofty said they attended the last few home games this season, and said school pride prompted their attendance on Thursday.
"We're just proud of our school," Boggs said. "We had crowds a few times (when we were in school) like they had this season, but we weren't as good as this year's team."
After passing Harmon Field and swinging back up Waugh Street, the procession ended back at the school. The team held its end-of-the-season banquet Thursday night and the players still seemed to be excited as they went their separate ways following the parade.
Beyond all the tense moments throughout the season, Meza said "she held her breath" when her son left the field briefly in the championship match on Saturday. Mendez said he likely suffered a broken nose on the play which sent him to the sideline midway through the first half, but with the state title on the line he was going to find a way to get back on the field.
"I had to get back out there," Mendez said. "I was bleeding a lot, but we just covered it up and I went back in the game. We had to get that win. It's been great this past week, a lot of people have been congratulating us and thanking us for everything. I'm sad the season is over, but it was a lot of fun."