Oakland’s 6A Championship win was just one of the exciting events of December


December is always an exciting month for a number of reasons. Most of the excitement revolves around the celebrations and preparations for the vacation, but for me, it’s also the highlight of the Tennessee high school football season.

Kade Hewitt (17) of Oakland touches the Class 6A TSSAA BlueCross Bowl Championship trophy after beating Summit to win the Championship game on Saturday, December 4, 2021 in Chattanooga.

This year, the thrills were heightened when Oakland High not only reached the BlueCross Bowl, but also won Gold Football, defending their TSSAA 6A State Championship.

Chattanooga served as the backdrop to this year’s grill competition for the first time – after 12 years at Cookeville.

Jordan James (2) of Oakland kicks the ball as Aden Byrd (17) of Summit tackles it during the TSSAA BlueCross Bowl Class 6A Championship game on Saturday, December 4, 2021, in Chattanooga.

Location wasn’t the only difference this year. Our coverage was a little different.

During the high school championships, it’s now normal to gather Gannett’s newsrooms across Tennessee. The difference this time around: We had a full women’s photo team, filming nine football matches over the three days of competition.

Our photo team consisted of Stephanie Amador from The Tennessean, Paula Ospina from The Jackson Sun and Brianna Paciorka from Knoxville News Sentinel, as well as myself.

Do not mistake yourself. I love working with all the photographers in Tennessee, male and female.

Gannett's all-female photo staff between games on the final day of TSSAA BlueCross Bowl Championship games on Saturday, December 4, 2021 in Chattanooga.  Left to right Brianna Paciorka of Knoxville News Sentinel, Paula Ospina of Jackson Sun, Helen Comer of Daily News Journal and Stephanie Amador of Tennessean.

But when I started as a full-time photojournalist, I was one of the first female photographers in my previous newspaper, and the only photo editor and multimedia editor.

I felt like I had to push harder to prove myself, even though the pressure was only in my mind. So having a full women’s team seemed special.

Even today, male sports photographers tend to outnumber women in most sporting events.

Photographers weren’t the only ones working hard to tell the stories of the 18 teams competing to win the coveted nine trophies. There were five more who tweeted, wrote stories, and captured videos as it all unfolded.

Members of the Tennessee High School football cover team for Gannett take a halftime group photo of the TSSAA BlueCross Bowl Class 6A Championship game between Oakland and Summit on Saturday, December 4, 2021 in Chattanooga.  Top row left to right Jarod Hamilton, Tom Kreager, Cecil Joyce and Joe Spears.  Bottom row from left to right Paula Ospina, Stephanie Amador, Emily Adams and Helen Comer.  Not pictured Brianna Paciorka.

Three of the team members are household names to our local readers. Cecil Joyce of the Daily News Journal, Tom Kreager of Tennessean and Joe Spears of Tennessean have all put Rutherford County athletes in the spotlight for years.

Patrick Valentine receives one-on-one help from Paul Caruthers at the Champion's Corner Boxing and Kickboxing Gym at Bill Taylor Bushido Karate School on Thursday, December 16, 2021.

The other two reporters are more recent members of our Tennessee High School coverage team: Emily Adams of Knoxville News Sentinel and Jarod Hamilton of The Jackson Sun.

Ravenwood soccer player Myles Pollard receives a hug and kiss from his mother Shante Pollard after signing to play soccer for Michigan during the first soccer signing period on Wednesday, December 15, 2021 in Ravenwood.

I am very proud to have worked with such a hardworking and talented group of people over these three days.

Riverdale's Morgan Sacharczyk takes on Coffee County's Jade Lenhart as the referee officiates the game in the Riverdale Duel over the Diamond, the school's first outdoor wrestling game at the Riverdale softball field on Tuesday November 30, 2021.
MTCS head football coach Kolby Tackett places his hand on the back of MTCS football player Aleric Watson as he prays for him before signing to play football with the State of the Arkansas in football's first signing period on Wednesday, December 15, 2021. Watson stands next.  to his mother Lenora Watson and Tackett represents MTCS athletic director Jason Piercey.

While the photos from the state football championship games were among my favorites in December, there were other events that I enjoyed as well.

Joe Steiner measures Turkish Christmas trees in the field to give away a prize at Country Cove Christmas Tree Farm on Monday, November 29, 2021 in Murfreesboro, Tenn.

Other favorite images for the month of December included a boxing / kickboxing class, high school football players signing up early to play college football, Christmas lights, The Duel on the Diamond, the first wrestling event outdoors from Tennessee High School, an MTSU Bahamas Bowl party shows and photos from the start of the high school basketball season.

Christmas lights at 3023 Bonaventure Ct. In Murfreesboro, Tennessee on Monday, December 6, 2021.
La Vergne goaltender Kori Grimes (10) tries to steal the ball from Oakland goalie Elaura Cox (3) on Tuesday, December 14, 2021 in Oakland.

I can’t wait to capture more visuals in 2022.

Helen Comer is a photojournalist for the Daily News Journal. She can be reached at [email protected]


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