By Steve Short
Danny Penn said he hadn’t missed a Peabody football game since 1972.
That’s why he and his nephew, Lane Penn, were first in line on the sidewalk in front of Milan’s Ritz theater last Thursday before 5 p.m.
The Peabody vs. Milan football game wouldn’t start until 7 p.m. at Milan’s renovated Johnnie Hale Stadium.
Because of the pandemic, only 300 tickets were made available in advance to Trenton fans. Overall attendance was limited to 1,500. Penn missed getting a ticket. But he got the next best thing – a seat at the Ritz, where a livestream of the game was shown on the big screen.
“We got here before five. We knew there’d be lines, and we really wanted to see the game,” said Penn, who played for Peabody in the mid-‘70s. His great uncle, Charlie Penn, was on Peabody’s first team in the 1920’s, and his grandfather, Wade Penn, was on Trenton’s second team.
“I’ve got ties going all the way back to the beginning,” said Penn, wearing a gold Peabody shirt. “I’ve seen a lot of blowouts from Milan’s standpoint. We’re rebuilding – quarterback, running back, everything – so I don’t know how we’ll do. I just hope it’s a close game, even if we lose.”
The game was close until the second half, when Peabody, the defending Class 2A state champs, after trailing 13-0, roared back to win 34-13.
Ritz owners Mark and Sherry Crooks got the idea to show the livestream from their son, Ryan Crooks, a P.E. teacher at Trenton Rosenwald Middle School.
“He mentioned that the ballgame was between big rivals, and there was limited seating at the stadium,” said Sherry. “He said, ‘Mom, wouldn’t it be cool, if we could find some way to put it on the screen at the theater?’ I said, ‘Let’s see if we can do it.’ So in a matter of two days, we threw it all together.”
The livestream with play-by-play commentary was broadcast on Peabody’s Facebook page.
“Peabody graciously offered their Facebook livestream,” said Ms. Crooks. “We have not done this before. It wasn’t so difficult. We’ve got laptops, and we just hooked them up with HDMI mic cables. It looked pretty good.”
There was no admission charge for the Ritz showing.
Milan fans, Roger and Debbie Stiles, wearing purple shirts, were near the front of the Ritz line at 5:40 p.m.
“We are football fans,” said Debbie. “Since we couldn’t get tickets to get into the stadium, we were excited to learn that the Ritz was going to livestream. So here we are. It’s cool. I was surprised they could livestream. I would love to be in the stadium. We don’t have season tickets, and I feel like the parents of the players and the band and the cheerleaders should have first dibs on getting in there to see their students.”
The Stiles gave the Ritz a donation and purchased snacks. They won’t see many more Milan games. They are season ticket holders at South Gibson County because daughter, Sharon Welch, works at South Gibson County Elementary School, and granddaughter, Emily marches in the band.
Several dozen fans attended the innovative event at the Ritz. People were assigned seats to adhere to social distancing protocols, with rows roped off and people separated. A minor technical glitch occurred late, but many fans had left, after Peabody led 27-13 in the third quarter.