Fort Campbell High is a public high school run by the Department of Defense and open only to children of soldiers who live on post at Fort Campbell. Their football team, the Fort Campbell High Falcons, serve as a support system for the 75-100 boys whose parents serve in harms way.
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The Fort Campbell High Falcons have won three consecutive state championships at a school where sudden roster changes are the norm. In 2008, alone the Falcons lost seven veterans when their parents were transferred to other bases.
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Coach Shawn Berner arrived at Fort Campbell in 2001, and took over as head coach of the team in 2002. He led the Falcons to district titles from 2003-05, but was not able to capture his first state title until 2007.
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Coach Berner and his assistants are a de facto family for their players. "They are their fathers when [their fathers] aren't here," one player's mother said. "If I needed to, I would sign my son over to them -- and they'd take him."
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Most of the soldiers stationed at Fort Campbell belong to either the 101st Airborne Division or the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment. Both can handle demanding physical labor and they've passed those genes along to their sons.
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"You can't be huge to fly in a helicopter," said co-athletic director Scott Lowe, and that is one problem the Falcons have. Though they are blessed with a wealth of rangy skill position players, they have precious few jumbo players to play in the trenches. Thus, Lowe must somehow transform 190-pound players into serviceable linemen.
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Used to constant moving, the players are adept at bonding quickly. Darien Upshaw, a kicker/offensive guard for the Falcons, lived in Washington, Texas, Oklahoma and Georgia before moving to Fort Campbell in Kentucky. The last four moves came in the past six years.
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In July 2009 the Falcons suffered through a tragedy after Tim Williams, an offensive lineman, died a day after collapsing during a workout. Coach Berner retired Williams' No. 73, and the Falcons dedicated their 2009 season to their fallen teammate. The Falcons went 15-0 and won their third consecutive state title that year.
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Berner's father served in Vietnam, but Berner was far from a military brat. He depends on his assistants, Scott Lowe, Josh McKillip and Nate Moore, all of whom graduated from Fort Campbell High, to better understand what his players are going through.
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A football powerhouse in the '70s as well, Fort Campbell High won the Kentucky state championship in 1976, 1978 and 1979.
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After Sept. 11, Fort Campbell was locked down. Snipers stood sentry in light towers, tanks rolled back and forth beside the practice field and every fan who attended Falcons home games had to be pre-approved.
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Almost all the students at Fort Campbell have seen friends lose parents, and they understand that their parents could be next. Many players though, have built a layer of detachment to protect themselves.
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