Pacing up and down the sidelines of Jordan-Matthews’ football field with a whistle around one’s neck may look familiar to longtime members of the Siler City community.
It’s how people most recognized the late Phil Senter, head coach of the Jets’ football team from 1977-1996 and the man after which the football stadium is named.
For Jordan-Matthews junior Abbey Copelan, it’s how she continues her grandfather’s legacy. Three years ago, Copelan, Senter’s granddaughter, brought Jordan-Matthews’ powderpuff games back to life on the very field where Senter brought success to the Jets’ football program.
The powderpuff games, a girls football competition, used to be an annual event at the school until worries about injuries and less interest made it a sporadic occasion from 2011-2021. As a freshman, Copelan, remembering how popular the games were when her sister, Allison Hill, attended Jordan-Matthews over a decade ago, brought it upon herself with the help of others to make it a tradition again.
This time, she attached the games to a good cause, raising about $1,500 each year from concessions and gate funds that gets donated to the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. Because the games are played in October, Copelan wanted to highlight breast cancer awareness while also having the girls wear pink.
“It’s been really good,” Copelan said. “I’m glad that we have it. It’s a good school spirit event.”
With enough players, the games are played in the 11 on 11 format. Sophomores play the seniors, freshmen play the juniors, and the winners play in a championship game.
The resurrection of the event began in 2021 when students began to show interest in wanting to do powderpuff games like the school had done in the past.
“I had asked the principal we had at the time, (Donna) Barger, ‘why don’t we have a powderpuff game?’” Copelan said. “She said staff just wasn’t planning it at the time, and I was like, ‘this is a long shot, but could a student do it?’ And, she was like, ‘yes, but it’s going to be a lot (and) you have to make a plan.’”
To make it work, Copelan needed permission slips, adult supervision, concessions and gate volunteers, referees and announcers.
For the first two years, she turned to the school’s girls basketball coach Lamont Piggie to supervise the event while receptionist Guadalupe Perez did the scoreboard.
“Whenever it was actually in place, everyone was really excited,” Copelan said. “We’ve had a lot of people participate each year. It has blown up.”
Copelan starts planning the event a month ahead, building interest and handing out permission slips.
“I’m so impressed by her taking the initiative to ask and then do it and then pull it off,” Perez said. “Amazing for a young girl her age, the drive she has inside of her.”
Perez eventually became the adult supervisor by the third year, but with the other positions needing to be filled, the event became a family affair.
Copelan’s aunt and former president of the school’s athletic booster club, Leslie Senter James, helped run the gate and concessions. Her uncle volunteered as a referee, and her mother, Wendy Baker, took on the announcing.
Baker and James are Senter’s daughters.
“(Copelan) just exhibits lots of leadership skills,” James said. “I just felt so compelled to want to help her in some way.”
Baker said she wasn’t surprised when Copelan first brought up the idea of reigniting the games three years ago. On top of being a leader, Copelan grew up around football as the love for the game was passed down from her grandfather to her mom and to herself.
“I applauded her,” Baker said. “She’s trying to set the tradition, and the students love it.”
James believes the booster club will try to continue the games after Copelan graduates in 2025 by finding a club within the school that’s willing to handle the administration of the event.
From the Senter family’s perspective, Copelan’s powderpuff games complete the circle of what Senter did for the school decades ago.
In similar fashion to Copelan setting the tradition of school spirit, Senter set the tradition of winning for Jordan-Matthews’ football program. Under his leadership, the Jets reached two NCHSAA semifinals in 1988 and 1995, achieved four undefeated regular seasons (1979, 1985, 1986 and 1991) and made 14 consecutive playoff appearances.
The school named the field after Senter in 2003, and after he died in 2020, the family held his funeral there.
At the most recent powderpuff games in October, a “beautiful” sunset came over the field, sparking deep emotions as the family felt Senter’s presence.
Baker also felt her father though her daughter’s passion on the field.
“The part that just absolutely brought me to tears was seeing her walk up and down the sidelines,” Baker said. “She had a whistle around her neck, and she was actively coaching. That just flooded me with memories.”