For nearly 50 years, the Independence Patriots football team has been celebrating every touchdown and field goal with the blast of a cannon, tallying their score on the eardrums of the entire town.
The tradition started in 1966, when Independence High School first opened, and principal Sam Haywood enrolled the school in a contest, one where the prize was a new mascot.
“This was going to be forever, he wanted us to have the opportunity to be part of something great,” said Doug Pressley, former Independence teacher who now manages operations of the cannon.
The contest was held by Lay’s Meats and radio station 61 AM Big Waves Radio, to see which school could collect the most Lay’s Meat labels.
Haywood involved Cochran and Albemarle middle schools, and soon, Independence was out in front, but just barely.
“We were neck and neck with AL Brown in Kannapolis so much that when it got down to it, we were 500 ahead of them,” Pressley said.
While Independence won the cannon, AL Brown did not walk away empty-handed either.
“In the interest of being a good sport, the surplus company that had them had two of them, so they gave AL Brown one and us one, but we’re the Patriots—it’s the perfect mascot,” Press- ley said.
Ray Michue, the drafting teacher at the time, had been managing the cannon for a number of years by 2001, when Pressley became involved.
Pressley now manages the operations of the cannon for Independence, and with the help of some students and former students, makes sure the cannon is operational and that it, “looks like the museum piece that it is,” touching up paint, cleaning the cannon, and transporting it to and from the main mall where it stays on display.
The cannon itself is actual American military issue, made in 1894, and though no documentation exists, may have been involved in Spanish-American War.
To fire the cannon, black powder is loaded behind a series of dry and wet paper, and a German Mauser bolt action is used to fire a .308 caliber blank, which ignites the black powder.
James Allen graduated from Independence in 2010, and has been giving Pressley a hand with the cannon for the last six years.
Allen’s father, the Charlotte school resource officer at Independence, first got him involved with the cannon, but his love of all things military has kept him involved.
“We can make car alarms go off,” Allen said. “We can make the ground shake.”
This tradition is holding strong as it works its way toward the 50-year mark, and as far as Pressley is concerned, it ought to go on as long as Independence is still scoring touchdowns.
Pressley said that it’s hard work keeping the cannon in working condition, and that finding others to take up the reins is no easy task, but that he’s kept doing it even after retirement, and loves it still.
On the 40th anniversary of Independence’s cannon in 2006, former principal Sam Haywood himself fired the cannon, and Pressley said he’s glad Haywood had the opportunity, because it was his idea and his vision.