HYANNIS – As the heavy rain turned to wafer-sized snowflakes pelting her face, Janette Anderson momentarily stood alone beneath the somber drumbeat of a steel gutter.
Her lip quivered and tears streamed down her face behind her dark sunglasses. For a brief, fleeting moment in time nearly two hours before kickoff of the 88th Barnstable-Falmouth Thanksgiving Day Game this holiday morning, it all seemed to sink in. Her boy had finally come home. He would truly never be forgotten. The honor of his service to his country forever intertwined with the place that first helped him become a man.
As the Quarterback Club and Barnstable High School officials, former teammates and local dignitaries began to arrive at W. Leo Shields Memorial Field, chilled by a battleship gray late-November sky, and as sandwiches were being made and pizzas warmed and hot cocoa poured behind her, Janette Anderson, mother of the late US Navy Seal Kevin A. Houston (1975-2011), seemed to breathe in the very spirit that drove her son to achieve what he had his entire life set out to achieve.
His sacrifice had truly not been in vain.
SOC Kevin A. Houston was killed in action in Afghanistan on Aug. 6, 2011, along with 30 other American sailors and soldiers and airmen when the Chinook-47 helicopter they were being transported in was destroyed mid-flight in the mountainous, desolate terrain of Wardak Province. One of the captains of the 1993 Barnstable High School football team, and one of the first members of the Barnstable Youth Football program, SOC Houston’s Red Raider jersey #46 was set to be retired 30 minutes before kickoff at midfield. His jersey is the first and only Red Raider varsity jersey in any sport ever retired at Barnstable High School.
In a moment of uncanny epiphany, Anderson stood in the same spot where she once waited for her grade-school son to come off the Barnstable Silver Bullets practice field and later, awaiting a brief hello from her teenaged son as he came battle-worn from the high school field under the bright lights of Friday night. Amid the hubbub of pre-game preparation, Anderson may have briefly let the emotion of the moment overwhelm her. At the same time, it was as if she was insulated and protected by the very spirit of the man who made the ultimate sacrifice for his country.
And then the skies began to clear and the rain and pelting snow subsided.
Standing at midfield an hour later, State Rep. Brian Mannal (D-Barnstable) emceed the football program’s jersey retirement ceremony, making sure to pay a special debt of gratitude to the people whose idea it was to retire the jersey.
Equally as important, Houston’s former co-captain and best friend Joe Kennedy (Barnstable High School Class of 1994) presented the school with a magnificent shadow box holding Jersey #46 in combination with photos of the late US Navy Seal and duplicates of his U.S. military service ribbons. Stoic throughout his presentation, Kennedy made certain all of those involved were recognized for their contribution to the event, in particular Meg Chaffee and John and Teresa Hardy of the Quarterback Club.
“Some of the best times of our life were spent on that practice field and this (W. Leo Shields Memorial Field) field,” Kennedy said. “This is a huge honor that today we are retiring his number (46) permanently.” Houston’s game-worn jersey was presented to Anderson by Rep. Mannal via the Quarterback Club and a duplicate jersey was presented to Houston’s wife Meiling and the couple’s three children.
Another duplicate of Houston’s framed jersey was unveiled by longtime former Red Raider head football coach – Houston’s coach throughout high school – Paul “Spanky” Demanche, now the athletic director at Monomoy Regional High School in Harwich. Both the shadow box donated by Kennedy and the framed jersey will hang in the hallways of Barnstable High School in perpetuity.
“I was so proud of him, he was a good player and he absolutely deserves to have his jersey retired,” Anderson said.
Rep. Mannal concluded the ceremony by presenting Anderson with the U.S. Flag that was flown over the Nation’s capital on the day Houston was killed.
“Sometimes in life, in retrospect, you look back on people who deserve recognition and in this case it is very fitting that Kevin Houston’s #46 should be retired,” Rep, Mannal said. “He was an outstanding sportsman and was truly someone who deserves to be honored by Barnstable High School.”
Thus far in Houston’s hometown he has been memorialized by a stone and bronze plaque on Hyannis Village Green and last spring Rep. Mannal was successful in facilitating the renaming of the Route 6 – Route 132 overpass in Houston’s name.
Others thanked for their efforts in retiring Houston’s jersey included former Houston high school teammate and USMC veteran Bill Liimatainen, Barnstable High School teachers Mike and Mary Gyra, Silver Bullets president Chris Joyce, the Barnstable High School Athletic Hall of Fame, the Silver Bullets coaching staffs, the BHS Athletic Department and many more.