Together Through the Ups and Downs: Lessons Learned at Milken Homecoming

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Ophir Berrin, Staff Writer

As the final seconds ran out in the fourth quarter of the Milken Homecoming game last week against Windward School and the Wildcats jogged to midfield to shake their opponents’ hands, the scoreboard behind them read simply: Milken: 20 – Winward: 45. But while there was some disappointment at the final score, it was pride and cheer that suffused the warm valley night air.

Everyone knew that Milken would be facing a formidable team; Windward had won three of their last four games and Milken had never beaten them since the football program started 10 years ago. The members of that first team were at the game and were honored at halftime, cheering on the latest batch of players following in their footsteps. 

Sammy Fitterman (’22 rubbing his face while walking off the field

The first half of the game confirmed expectations, as Windward came out strong on offense and defense. Milken was able to make a few defensive stops, holding them scoreless deep into the first quarter. However, the Wildcats were unable to stop Windward once they gained momentum. Windward scored on big plays, breaking away on kick returns and running the full length of the field for the touchdown. When Milken did make progress downfield by making defensive stops or through methodical runs and the occasional completion, they were unable to capitalize, giving up several interceptions, one of which was returned for six points. There was also one notable drive when Milken, on Windward’s 20-yard line, suffered penalty after penalty, eventually pushing the first down, and their first points of the game, out of reach. At halftime, the score: Milken 0 – Windward 19.

Despite such adversity, Milken refused to quit. For the seniors on the team, Lev Knolla (QB, FS, K), Sammy Fitterman (WR, FS, CB), and Jack Seigel (RB, MLB, SS), who was out with an injury, this was their final high school football game, and the whole school was watching. When the team came rushing out after halftime, they seemed more focused, determined to fight to the end. After the first play of the third quarter where Milken gave up a 60-yard kick return for a touchdown, they started returning punches. 

 

Sammy Fitterman (’22) running in open field on a kick return

Following another Windward rushing touchdown, Fitterman made a brilliant play  on the kick return. Starting on the far side of the field near Milken’s own endzone, he juked a few Windward players and cut across toward the sideline near the Milken fans, breaking a few more tackles and sprinting downfield for the touchdown. Seemingly creating plays out of willpower alone, he did the same 10 minutes later, forcing his way 70 yards through the ranks of the Windward special teams to score once more. He wasn’t the only Milken player to get some action. In the fourth quarter, Milken was able to push downfield, culminating in a redemptive 20-yard run by quarterback Lev Knolla to score their third touchdown of the game.

While Milken ultimately failed to make a complete comeback, the team proved their resilience, able to keep their heads in the game rather than be bogged down by the knowledge that their friends and family were watching. And when the players stood together at the end of the game, huddled just like they would before every play, they realized that it was their camaraderie that motivated them to push themselves to greater heights, and soon it would all be gone. They started to cry because their incredibly close bond, forged from months of sweat and toil to achieve a common goal, would disappear and for some, there would be no next year. It doesn’t have to be that way, though. The players’ actions and the Milken crowd’s support stand as a testament to the community we should aspire to have on and off the field, not simply one night but the entire year. So although the score didn’t end up our way, Homecoming proved what’s possible when we are supportive of each other, a closeness Milken needs more than ever.

Seniors Jack Siegel, Lev Knolla, and Sammy Fitterman (’22) laugh in front of the camera