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The game and life needed to go on

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MARTIN, Tenn. — With most of the sports world shut down, two teams took the field for a small college football game and simply played on.

Players and cheerleaders from Kentucky Wesleyan and Tennessee-Martin were joined on the field by local police and firefighters Thursday night in tribute to those killed in Tuesday's terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.

The ceremony included a moment of silence and a solo rendition of "Taps." Fans sang "God Bless America" without musical accompaniment.

The game was the only college football game to go on as scheduled in a week that has seen virtually all professional and major college sports postponed across the nation.

"I just don't believe the evil acts of terrorists should keep us from living our lives," Tennessee-Martin athletic director Phil Dane told the Jackson Sun.

Tennessee-Martin coach Sam McCorkle said he was unaware until after the game that it was the only one in the country to be played.

"It makes me proud," McCorkle said.

The crowd of 4,645 was led in prayer and heard a soloist's rendition of the "Star Spangled Banner" before singing "God Bless America."

"May the forces of evil be broken by your power," the Rev. Adam Hall said in a prayer to begin the game at 6,500-seat Skyhawks Stadium.

Despite the NFL, major league baseball and all NCAA Division I-A schools canceling or postponing games through Sunday, the game between Division I-AA Tennessee-Martin and Division II Kentucky Wesleyan went on.

"I listened to President Bush the other night, and he said we were not going to let outside factors influence the way we live," McCorkle told the Sun.

"There's not a more patriotic person than I am, but I thought we needed to play," he said. "It's a tragic, tragic thing, but maybe this helped take some minds off the tragedy for a while."

Tennessee-Martin won 54-14.

"We can still grieve for the people and nation, but the country needs to get back to normalcy," Martin City Councilman Randy Brundige told the Sun.

During practice this week, the Skyhawks coaching staff hung an American flag from an on-field observation tower. McCorkle said he spoke with his players following the attacks about the advantages they have living in America.

"We just talked about what the flag means and what our country means," McCorkle said.

Kevin Lambert, chairman of Tennessee-Martin's department of music, sang the national anthem and led the crowd in singing "God Bless America" during an emotional tribute.

"It's been a hard couple of days, but doing things like this means we're going to be all right," he said.

Dane said sports at the 5,900-student school is still a "student activity" and not big-time entertainment like it is in the Southeastern Conference and the NFL. He said he had no second thoughts about playing the game.

"We didn't shut down the tennis courts. We didn't say students couldn't be involved in any other activity. We're trying to carry on business as usual," he said.

"I understand that other conferences canceled for reasons related to travel safety, television coverage and other things. But we don't have any of those issues to consider."