Stone County High School's football team took to the field Friday night for the first time since allegations surfaced earlier this week of what the NAACP calls a "hate crime."
The high school and it's football team made national headlines this week after the incident, which involved some of the team's players reportedly putting a rope around a black player's neck and tightening it.
Some members of the tight-knit community are still not sure what really happened, with some saying it was a prank gone bad and others claiming it was a hate crime.
However, despite the distractions of the last week, many residents agree that football is the balm to help ease the tension and discord.
Fan and former Southern Miss football player Arnie Williams has seen the Stone High football team up close and personal and says he knows the power of teamwork is a strong antidote to help overcome hard times.
“I told them this morning that this was an opportunity for them to show, not just the community, but the entire world how to overcome adversity when it approaches you," he said.
Williams said he also tried to drive that message home when he spoke with the football players before the game, telling them that distractions like the incident this week are a test.
“There are some lessons to be learned," Williams explained. "We talked about adversity and we talked about distractions (before the game). And I think these kids have a great understanding of what that's about."
Friday night's game was also Senior Night for the school, and many of the students cheering their peers on say now is the time to show unity among the students and the community.
“Football brings everybody together, from elementary students to grandparents,” said sophomore Shana Bourgeois. “Everybody feels it on football Friday."
A big part of that healing is being able to move forward, and Bourgeois says her school is doing just that.
“Everybody’s trying to put out a positive vibe and keep our heads up," she said.
Supporter Bobby Iser said faith and football make a strong glue for his community.
“You can look out on that field and it’s every color, every race and creed," said Iser. "Stone County is a Christian community and God wants us to be unified and I think this might be one way; football might be one avenue that helps us come together as a community."
Supporting the school, it's football team, and the players is key to moving past this, said Iser, adding that love is the key to ending conflicts like the one the school is currently dealing with.
“I hope after the game, we can all embrace and we can tell these boys that we love them no matter what color they are, who their parents are, where they’re from," said Iser. "We love all these kids and want to just exemplify Christ in everything we do."