Life in Greenwich, Mississippi revolved around two things: High school football and the Greenwich Light and Ballast Plant. One gave the town its soul — the other its heartbeat. And never in the history of the town was there a more important high school football game than this game. For the first time, the team was on the cusp of making the state playoffs. The only thing standing between them and history was the mighty Meridian Warriors.
The Greenwich Yellow Jackets warmed up in the north end zone. A cool breeze rustled the flags as the brightly dressed townspeople filled the steel stadium. Summer had long left town. Fall was the home team tonight.
The Warriors, three-touchdown favorites, played the part of Goliath. The Yellow Jackets, a small and scrappy team, stood and stared down their foe. David was ready for kickoff and their moment of destiny. The whistles tweet signaled the beginning of one of the hardest fought games in Mississippi high school football history.
Four quarters passed with both teams taking the lead. And with only 34 seconds remaining, Goliath was only ahead by a single point.
Greenwich quarterback Billy Cunningham lined up with two wide receivers and a sure-fire play up his sleeve. A short count sent the receivers downfield and found star receiver Jimmy Evan Drake wide open at the 40. The football kissed his outreached fingertips. He pulled the ball into this chest and took off like he had stolen it. 40. 30. 20. 10. He saw the end zone and knew he would be the town’s hero. Jimmy Evan’s life was about to change forever. He pulled the ball out to celebrate as he crossed the goal line and prepared to hear the crowd’s loving cheers.
But what he didn’t hear was Meridian’s safety walking him down.
The safety caught Jimmy Evan’s leg, tripping him and causing him to fumble. The ball never broke the plane and fell with a thud onto the field. Meridian’s cornerback fell on the it as time ran out. The Warriors won and moved on to win the 1985 State Championships.
Goliath had won. And David lay on the ground humiliated.
Jimmy Evan was right about one thing: His life was about to change forever — just not in the way he had hoped.
“Get off the ground, loser.” One of his teammates spat on him as he walked past.
Jimmy Evan heard the shouts from the home stands. He then heard a chorus of boos as he walked off the field. Cups flew and pelted his helmet.
“Way to blow it, Jimmy Evan!” The crowd growled.
He looked over at the hostile crowd and saw the look of disgust on their faces. Then he saw his girlfriend Julia. She had tears on her face. It was a look he’d never forget.
The next few days brought no relief. Jimmy Evan twice had been beat up in the hall between classes and now sported a black eye. Someone keyed the word “LOSER” on his family’s car. His home had been egged and threatening notes were stuck in his locker. The final blow was when his father Stan was fired from the plant. “We don’t have to give you reason Stan. But you had better tell your boy he had better learn how to run faster.”
So the whole family ran. Jimmy Evan’s dad put their house up for sale and soon, the family’s packed Oldsmobile station wagon headed out of town for the last time.
As they pulled out of the neighborhood, Jimmy Evan saw Julia in front of her house crying. His heart broke and he muttered, “I’m going to get even with this town if it is the last thing I ever do.” And with that threat, Jimmy Evan disappeared into the setting Mississippi sunset for good.
Twenty eight years later found Greenwich dirtier, smaller and poorer. Boarded up businesses lined Main Street — the town was surviving but only by a thread. NAFTA had sent the garment factory and its jobs to Mexico. The ballast plant was still open (against the odds) but rumors was that it was for sale. The family who had owned it for years had lost their patriarch and his children had no interest in owning a dusty old light plant. The townspeople walked on eggshells.
“I hear there’s going to be a town-hall meeting about the plant’s future tonight.” Brenda Stockard said as she teased Veronica Smith’s bangs. Word traveled quickly around town — information went viral in Greenwich well before the internet was invented. Signs were soon posted that read, “Ballast Plant meeting tonight at 6 p.m. at the Library and Convention Center.”
By 5:45 p.m., the room resembled a large can of sardines.
“They sold the plant today and the new owner is coming into town to reveal it’s fate.” Betty Sue Williams overhead the mayor telling the chamber president. She quickly texted the bad news to 400 of her closet friends who did the same. By 6 p.m., fear wrapped around the town like a giant boa constrictor.
A black Mercedes pulled up the front of the library and its chauffeur opened the the sole passenger’s door. Out stepped a bald man who wore a $5,000 suit and a sense of destiny. He strutted through the packed room to the podium. He took off his sunglasses and stared out at the crowd.
The room was as quiet as a tomb.
The CEO looked out at the townspeople and began to speak.
“My company, LightCorp., bought the light plant today in an all-cash deal. While we value your customers, I’m afraid we have no need for this plant. In six weeks, we will close it for good. All workers will be given severance and can apply for jobs at other LightCorp facilities.”
The town had been given its death sentence.
Grown men began to openly weep. Others stood there in stunned silence. “Noooo!!!!” a lady in the back cried. “Who are you?” A voice cried out in the back.
“Funny you should ask. You might remember me. Because I sure remember you. My name is Jimmy Evan Drake. This town ran my family out of town 28 years ago and today you are reaping what you sowed. I didn’t drop that ball on purpose. But you damn sure harassed my family. My father never could find work again and started drinking. He died in a car accident a year later. I had to skip college to work to take care of my mom and my brother. I started this company with the sole purpose of getting my revenge. And today, I have it.”
The crowd sat in stunned silence.
“Jimmy Evan?” A familiar voice cried out. Jimmy Evan looked out in the crowd and saw a woman step into the aisle.
“Jimmy Evan, that is you? No, it can’t be. The Jimmy Evan I loved would never do this.”
Jimmy Evan knew immediately who she was. He stared at her face. It was a face he had seen in his dreams for nearly 30 years. It was bony and worn. Three decades had been hard on her — tonight particularly. Tears streamed down her high cheekbones. It was at that moment something inside of him broke loose. The hatred he had been holding in his heart began to melt. He realized that his “revenge” was going to be hurting the very person he had loved the most.
Jimmy Evan ran out and hugged his old girlfriend. The two former lovers held each other for what seemed like 28 years. And then he stepped back and tenderly wiped the tears from her cheek. She smiled as he walked back up to the podium.
He stood there, staring at the town he had hated for so many years and said, “I’ve had a change of heart. I forgive you for what you did. And I will keep this plant open and invest in upgrading it. Greenwich will have a future as long as I own the plant.”
The audience erupted into the loudest ovation ever.
The town of Greenwich got its chance to cheer Jimmy Evan Drake. And after 28 years in exile, he finally scored the winning touchdown.