CARY, N.C. (WTVD) -- As students across the Triangle prepare to head back to the classroom Monday morning, fans packed high school stadiums Friday night for football games.
"We've waited a long time for my senior season. It seems as if it's flown by with COVID. Everything seems like it's flown by. Excited for some normalcy, get some fans with the stands," said Jackson Short, a senior on Leesville Road High's football team.
The Pride are having to play their first five games on the road, as renovations on-campus continue. But regardless of where they'll suit up, Jackson's mom, Sarah, is happy to travel.
"It's just awesome. I could cry about it because I'm so happy for them to see them out there now practicing, working out," said Sarah, whose second oldest son is also on the team.
The mother of five recounted the challenges of the past two-plus years.
"It has been tough. In and out of school. Kids at home, learning at home, learning around the table. But man, they have overcome," said Short.
Cassie Roberts, the mother of a Panther Creek High senior football player, struck a similar note.
"They're actually getting to do things they haven't done. Going into classes, and sitting beside classmates, and getting to sit beside people in the cafeteria, will just be an amazing experience, for all the kids in high school now and for every age group," Roberts said.
Despite the excitement, COVID-19 remains a concern for some parents. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, 15% of new cases last week were in children, and less than half of grade-school kids in North Carolina have received even one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. However, NCDHHS reported the lowest number of new cases last week since early May, with the agency also sharing a dip in virus particles found in wastewater, emergency room visits, and hospital admissions.
"Just try to distance as much as possible and enjoy the game," said Ken Vereen, who stood along the fence as he watched his son Aaron, a junior running back for Leesville Road.
Vereen said his son had a chance to travel to Florida to take part in a summer camp and work with other athletes; many camps, which are important for recruiting purposes, were scaled back during the pandemic. As he took in the energy of the crowd Friday, the joy was evident on his face.
"It reminds me of a big-time college game. It does. And I get that feeling, I want to get on the field," Vereen said.