By Brian Hoffman – Sports Editor
Botetourt County folks know Mark Driscoll as the guy with the white beard who sits next to Renee Favaro on the Lord Botetourt girls’ basketball team bench. However, some might not realize that Driscoll has also been a football official for the past 40 years, all the while managing the Orange Market at Hanging Rock.
Normally at this time of year a “coffee clutch” of locals would be gathered around the tables just inside the door, arguing who would have the best high school football team this fall, or if Virginia could beat Virginia Tech again. However, Driscoll sold the business just before the coronavirus pandemic hit, wiping out the high school fall season and much of the college season as well.
For 34 years Driscoll arrived at the Orange Market, located in north Roanoke County just outside Salem, every day to open at 5 am. In addition to running the store he managed to hold court amidst the many folks who used the store as a place to socialize and shoot the bull with friends.
“It was a great bunch of folks,” said Ed Thompson, a regular who earned the nickname of ‘Manager of Aisle four.’ Ed would be there every day just as the doors opened to make the coffee, which was located on aisle four.
“We’d talk about any kind of sports,” said Thompson, who is still showing up to make the coffee under the new management. “I’d make coffee and read the newspaper and we’d be sitting around talking about all kinds of stuff, mostly sports. Over the years I’ve met a lot of nice folks.”
Driscoll grew up near Richmond and attended Hermitage High School in Henrico. He played football at Emory & Henry College, where he was a teammate of Jerry “Radar” Henderson, who has been his friend for close to 50 years and a fellow high school football official. Their wives were roommates and when Mark married the former Ellen Richardson in 1976 he moved to the Roanoke Valley.
Mark’s father-in-law, the late Ralph Richardson, was the long-time owner of the Green Market in Salem, and Ralph branched out to start a string of convenience stores. At one time he had nine “Orange Markets” in the Roanoke Valley, including one on Peters’ Creek Road where Mark took a job as manager in ‘76.
The affable Driscoll soon had a variety of customers meeting there, and when he moved to the Hanging Rock store in 1986 he found himself amidst a cast of characters that would have been a great group to build a TV situation comedy around.
“There was a lot of BS,” said Jim Barley, who would drive from Botetourt County twice a week just to hang out at the Orange Market.
Barley is a big time Virginia Tech fan, having been honored by the University at a basketball game last season. Jim has been a Hokie Club member for over 60 years and a season ticket holder for Tech basketball games for 45 years. Meanwhile, Driscoll is a UVA fan and they’ve had many discussions over the years on the merits of the two athletic programs.
“I didn’t pay any attention to him,” said Barley, who has also run the clock and done public address announcing at James River High. “It depended on who won, but he usually doesn’t have much to talk about.”
Tom Hufford, a retired insurance salesman who used to do color on Salem High football radio broadcasts, was a regular as well. While the group tried to shy away from politics, sometimes it came up anyway.
“He’s a big Democrat and it’s fun to get him riled up,” said Larry Hicks, who came by three or four times a week. “If you mentioned Hillary Clinton he’d go off. He thinks she’s the greatest thing in the world.”
Hicks is retired from the Salem Baptist Home, which is now Hopetree, and he’d pass by the store on his way to work and stop by for some coffee and conversation.
“It was fun just to talk to everyone,” he said. “Nothing was sacred.”
Thompson started hanging out at the Orange Market at the entrance of Beverly Heights in West Salem when he lived out that way. His dad, Dalton “Tommy” Thompson, had been a regular there when the late Ronnie Mowles managed that store. Ronnie would eventually move to the Hanging Rock store to help Mark and when Ed built a home near the Penguin Club in Salem he started stopping by the Hanging Rock store.
“Over the years I met a lot of nice folks there,” said Thompson, who is also a Tech fan and has been a member of the football chain gang for many years.
Malcom Horn, who lives in Catawba, is a regular who was dubbed the leader of the Craig County Bear Hunters Club. He’s stopped by for coffee and a honey bun for close to 40 years.
“We meet there to talk,” he said. “Mostly we just like to run the hounds.”
Malcom grows tomatoes and sold them at the Orange Market.
“He sold my tomatoes for years,” said Horn. “I started dealing with Mark 43 years ago when he was at Peters Creek. He’s a good man to deal with.”
Robert Cannaday is another regular who stopped by every morning to enjoy the company.
“It’s like a box of chocolates,” said Cannaday. “You never know what you’re going to get.”
Some other regulars included Hal Johnston, who was a great athlete at Andrew Lewis High and Roanoke College and worked for the college for many years. Hal coached football at the middle school before moving to Charlotte, but he swears he’ll be coming back for the football games.
Todd All’s dad, Lacy, was the original “Manager of Aisle Four” and Todd became a regular as well. Cotton Myers worked for Jim and Laurie Hinchee, who owned the store years ago, and Chick Blankenship was another long time regular.
“He(Blankenship) would take a hot dog off the roller with his hands and eat it and say, ‘this is West Virginia style’,” said Cannaday.
Dusty Slusher often showed up at the store and Eddie Herron used the Orange Market as a support system after losing his wife.
“It was sudden and he really took it hard,” said Driscoll. “He told me he couldn’t hardly sleep for six months or more and felt totally lost, and this was an outlet for him. I’d come in the morning and he’d be there waiting for me.”
The market has also served as a directory of services for anything you might need. It was sort of Google before the internet.
“Anything you need, someone could find it for you,” said Driscoll. “If you need a plumber, someone knew a plumber. If you needed an electrician, we could get you one. Just give me a day or two and I could find you someone to call.”
While Mark has retired from the market he was still planning on officiating football this fall before the high school season was called off. And, he’ll continue to coach girls’ basketball at Lord Botetourt.
If the VHSL plays football in the spring, as planned, it will be Mark’s 40th year in stripes. It’s a labor of love and he says he’ll continue to do it as long as his knees hold up.
With several high school officials coming by the store, the subject of officiating came up often. Barley was a long time official and when he showed up on the Tuesday following the Friday night high school games they would talk about what the officials did right or wrong.
“One time there was a picture in the paper and you could see me looking at the ball,” said Driscoll. “Jim pointed out that my job was to watch the line. He knew.”
Jim had to retire because of his knees but he still misses being on the field.
“I miss it dearly,” he said. “Even now when I watch a football game I’m more concerned with the officials then I am with the teams. I watch the Tech games and find myself counting how many players are on the field.”
Driscoll has two state championship rings from coaching basketball, including one he received just last Friday from the Lord Botetourt girls’ 2020 state championship. They also won in 2018.
Mark first got involved in basketball when Gaylen Moore was teaching and coaching at North Cross School. He moved to Salem to help Tracey Driscoll(no relation) with the Spartan girls, and about the time Tracey moved to Lord Botetourt to become the Cavaliers’ athletic trainer a spot came open on LB girls’ basketball coach Chuck Pound’s staff. Tracey recommended Mark and he hit off immediately with Pound. He continued helping Renee Favaro last season after Chuck retired.
“It’s been very enjoyable,” he said. “The folks at Botetourt have been great.”
Mark never let coaching and officiating get in his way of running the Orange Market. If he had a Friday night football or basketball game out of town he’d still show up in time to open the store on Saturday morning.
“I’d do a football game in the Piedmont District but I’d get up at 4:30 to be at the store in time,” he said. “It was rough sometimes.”
Mark and Ellen have two children, both married. Laura(Pitt) has two boys, Liam and Ben, and they live in Middleton after moving back to Virginia after living in Hawaii. Sam and his wife live in Shawsville and have two boys, Wyatt and Ryan, and have a girl on the way. One of the reasons Mark decided to step away was to have more family time, and he also found it hard to find good employees.
“I couldn’t find qualified people to work, and I didn’t want to work 16 to 18 hour days,” he said. “I didn’t want to go back to working 60-80 hour weeks.”
Alice Blankenship, a long-time employee, has stayed on under the new owners. Many workers have come and gone over the years.
“Jane Glass was a rock when I took over the store,” said Driscoll. “She made my job easy. I’ve had good help over the years but it’s become harder and harder to find them.
“It was a hard decision to give it up,” he continued. “I feel like I lost a lot of family when I sold the store and I still wake up early in the morning and think about it. I made a lot of friendships and those folks made my day a whole lot better, that’s how I was able to last so long. Like Pablo Cruz said, it’s been very, very good to me.”
The gang hasn’t broken up entirely, but it’s not like it used to be without Mark. He was the chief that conducted the Pow Wow every morning.
“The years have flown by, and Mark always made it fun to be there” said Thompson, who continues to manage ‘Aisle Four.’ “It’s just a good neighborhood store, and probably one of the last.”