KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – Long before the band began playing “Rise Above It” to introduce the Bobcats to the playing field, and even before paint adorned the bodies that emphatically cheer in the front row in the Bobcats Student Section, Dave Wininger was on the sidelines for Central Football. A place Wininger has called home during the fall since 1982.
“When I started high school I hung out with all the football players and cheerleaders,” Wininger said. “I started hanging around on Friday Nights and helping with the water and stuff. We had a game one Friday Night at Karns high school and Coach came up to me and asked if I would do me a favor and he said I want you to do the footballs for me.”
It was a life-altering question for Wininger who, as of the Bobcats October 9th game against Carter, has served as Central’s Ball Boy for 487 consecutive games…and counting.
“One of the things that’s hard for kids to understand is being successful takes consistently showing up to do the work and Dave is probably the best example of that,” Central Head Football Coach Nick Craney explained. “That number of games in a row is unbelievable.”
On any given Friday night you can see Wininger with two to three footballs tucked under his arms, attentively awaiting the moment his services will be called upon by the refs.
“You have to watch the officials when they turn around and say ball you have to watch the officials, what they do and you can get your mind off the game real quick by watching the game,” Wininger said. “Sometimes they’ve hollered at me.”
Something Winninger admitted happens with rarity these days.
“They (the officials) tell me they can’t wait to get to Central’s ball games cause they’ve got somebody that knows that they’re doing,” Wininger said.
His sidelines presence has become a multi-generational presence in Central Football, and he’s often providing more than just game-ready footballs to the umpires on Friday nights.
“What a guy,” former all-state punter Michael Punter said. “Huge reason for all to of my success on the field. May have been a superstition, but he got the ball I wanted out there every time I stepped on the field to kick. That helped take the mental game out of it and allowed me to relax.”
“I always love watching and this is at any game,” Craney explained. “When we score a touchdown you’re going to hear the band play and see Dave take off to catch the extra point. One of the little things you enjoy seeing.”
There’s no telling when Dave will pass on the footballs, and he’s not ready to give any sort of timeline, either. As long as his health allows it he plans to be standing on the sidelines, or maybe sprinting down them following a Bobcat trip to the endzone, on Friday nights.
“If you walk away from it you’re going to miss it,” Wininger said. “I just hope it’s not too soon. It’s just exciting to be here on Friday Nights.”