Forsyth Central High School’s varsity football team was playing North Forsyth, their biggest rivals, and Elizabeth Appleton was finally on the sidelines for it.
Appleton, then a junior, had joined Central’s cheerleading program the summer before freshman year. The program gave Appleton an early connection to the school, a group to lean on as she made the transition from middle to high school.
For two years, Appleton was a member of the junior varsity cheerleading squad, but now, she was on varsity. As she stood on the sidelines, Appleton looked up at the crowd of fans and remembered why she loved being a student at Central.
“The idea that all these people show up to cheer on a team,” Appleton said. “We all know Central has had some poor years and some better years, but still everyone shows up and is cheering on the kids who have worked so hard after school every day.”
Class of 2020
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Appleton grew up attending Central feeder schools. Her friends were going to be Bulldogs, and she was too.
“I’ve been pretty much with the same kids through kindergarten,” Appleton said.
As she got closer to attending Central, Appleton heard about the school’s family-like atmosphere and was skeptical.
“Every school tries to brand themselves as a family, right?” Appleton said. “Why wouldn't they?”
It didn’t take long for Central to convince her.
First, it was the teachers, who demonstrated concern for students’ academic and social-emotional well-being.
“I have so many teachers that were basically my mom at school,” Appleton said.
Then, Appleton started to find her place in Central’s “family.”
Cheerleading helped. So did her freshman marketing class, which introduced Appleton to DECA, a non-profit organization that “prepares emerging leaders and entrepreneurs for careers in marketing, finance, hospitality and management,” according to their website.
In both, Appleton found camaraderie among the daunting number of friend groups in high school.
“It was hard at first to find a group that was right for me,” Appleton said, “but once I found it, everyone was so accepting of it.”
Appleton became an integral part of both groups. In DECA, she finished third at a state competition her sophomore year and was selected to be an officer as a junior and senior. This school year, Appleton was named a captain on the cheerleading team.
But Appleton never felt more connected to her school than cheering on the sidelines during a Friday-night football game.
And she never felt Central’s community come alive more than that night against North Forsyth. The Bulldogs won, 24-20, the first win for the program against a county team in 11 years. The team went on to make the state playoffs for the first time since 2001.
Appleton remembers being surrounded by pandemonium in the stadium as her Central family celebrated together.
“It was wild. It was fun,” Appleton said. “I feel like the school spirit was so high in that moment, too.”