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City leaders, community proud of Panthers for incredible win

LANETT — As Kristian Story pulled down his 29th career interception with 40 seconds left in the ASHAA 1A state championship game, the entire city of Lanett erupted as it became clear the Lanett Panthers were going to be champions for the second time in three years.

Lanett defeated Mars Hill Bible 41-30 Thursday at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, and with the win, lifted the spirits of more than 6,000 residents living in the Chambers County town.

“This is a good group of people that represent our school system and city very well,” Mayor Kyle McCoy said. “They are definitely ambassadors far and beyond because of the citizenship they show and the way they handle themselves on and off the field.”

Although he’s glad Lanett came out on top, it’s important for the students to play in the biggest game in the state for 1A football players and nothing can take away those memories.

“I hope people realize the importance of it because there are so many great athletes in this state that have never had this opportunity,” McCoy said.

Not only was this a great win for the team, but McCoy said it was a great advertisement for the city.

“It goes to show that people have heard of us, and it’s a testament about the kind of athletes we have on the field and the classroom,” he said.

Narfunda Ross, who can be seen at just about every Lanett football game with a camera and big smile cheering on the Panthers, said the game for the students is also a big self-esteem boost.

She said some of the students might never play college football or attend college, but several of the Lanett players can now say, “I played at Jordan-Hare.”

“We are a small town with a small support system but big things come from small places,” Ross said.

She said the recognition of the win promotes not only the athletic program at Lanett but the school system as a whole. She said the city had been known as having a thriving textile industry to having a crime problem due to some statistics, but now, it’s known for more.

“We have made a name for ourselves as being an elite community with an elite school,” Ross said.

Charles Looser, ex-Lanett City Schools Superintendent and current Lanett City Councilman, said he’d been a lifelong resident and fan of the Lanett Panthers.

“The whole school system runs better when you have something like this to rally around,” he said. “It gives the students a bit more pride and something to focus on.”

Looser said he would marvel at the way the now-champion Panthers would conduct themselves on and off the field.

“When one has a little bit of a down time, there is always somebody there to pick them up,” he said. “That starts at the top with the football coach.”

He called Lanett head coach Clifford Story a “fine man,” and one that shows the students how to follow his lead.

“He leads by example,” Looser said. “He’s who you want your kid to play for and be associated with.”

Kristian Story finished his high school career Thursday night with more than 13,000 all-purpose yards throughout his time at Lanett. The 249 passing yards and 110 rushing yards added to his mark as the all-time yards leader in Alabama high schools. Also, his four touchdowns — two through the air and two on the ground — also extended his lead at the top of the all-time touchdown leader in the state. Story has committed to play his college football at the University of Alabama.