You don't have to be a Panther to be a Panthers fan.

Saturday, scores of people made their way to Groves Stadium in Winston-Salem to watch the Dudley High School Panthers take on the Crest High School Chargers from Shelby in the 3-AA state championship game.Most of the people in the stands on Dudley's side had some kind of Dudley connection: students, parents, faculty, Dudley alumni. But there were plenty of people there, like Wayne Lassiter of Asheboro and Greg Brown of Sedgefield, who never attended the school and didn't have any immediate relatives who did either.

Yet there they were, on their feet, shouting and waving their hands as they hollered at everything Dudley did - even cheering a good try that turned into a dropped pass.

What brought them out?

"I like to watch a good game and Dudley has a good program," Brown said. "Plus, I've never been to a championship game before."

This was Dudley's second try at a state title in two years. The Panthers came close in 2002. But in the end, they lost to Ashbrook High School of Gastonia.

But this go-round was a little different.

"Everyone at school has been talking about this game," still-hopeful Dudley senior Michelle Haygood said at half-time, when the teams were locked at 7-7. "We went into this one thinking we could win it this time."

More than 5,000 people paid to see the title match up.

Pauleze Fitzgerald, a 1984 Dudley grad, said all the Friday night games are like big class reunions, not to mention big games like this.

"You'll see people you probably haven't seen since high school," she said.

Fitzgerald was there with her father, Osbert Haynes, and her two sisters, Antoinette Haynes, a 1981 Dudley graduate , and Vyvette Haynes Douglas, a 1988 graduate.

But by the way the people in the stands greeted each other, it was easy to see that Saturday's game was more than just about the final score.

"It's a community event," said Donna Bason, a 1974 Dudley grad. "It's a pride thing."

\ Contact Cynthia Jeffries at 627-4881, Ext 137, or cjeffries@news-record.com

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