By Brian Hoffman – Sports Editor
It’s now day 154 AG, or “After Gobert.” Can you believe it’s been 154 days since Rudy Gobert came down with COVID-19 and the sports world as we knew it came to a halt?
Today is exactly four months and one day later and normally I’d be working 12 hours a day, seven days a week on my preseason football editions at this time of year. It’s a lot of work but it’s a labor of love and always satisfying when it’s done.
High School teams would normally be in pads by this time and this weekend would be the first preseason scrimmages. It’s an exciting time for everyone, and hopefully it can be replicated in the spring when (if?) we finally get around to playing high school football.
My very first best friend turned 68 last weekend and that brought back some memories of my introduction to high school football. Dennis Snyder lived two doors down on Highland Drive in Telford, PA and he was the same age as me. I was allowed to walk to his house, and vice versa, as long our moms knew where we were. Our elementary school was three blocks down Main Street and we would walk to school together in the first grade, stopping at his Aunt Florence’s house on the way home for a cool drink. I don’t know if parents would go for that anymore, but it was a different time.
My parents weren’t big sports fans, but Denny’s dad played for our church softball team and he liked football. We only lived a few blocks from the high school, and I can still recall Friday nights as a young child. From our back porch you could see the lights from the stadium and hear the public address announcer and the band.
Then one day Denny’s dad asked if I’d like to tag along to the high school game. I couldn’t say yes fast enough and, from that time and every fall for the next 58 years, I’ve been consumed with high school football.
I fell in love with it right away. The Souderton Indians always had a good team when I was growing up. They played in a stadium about the size of Northside High School, and it was never enough seating to accommodate all the fans. You had to come a half hour before the gates opened, at least, to get a good seat, and late comers ringed the field two or three deep behind the cable wire that separated the cinder track from the neatly cut green grass.
The “Big Red” would come down a steep metal staircase that led from the team room, and when they came running under the goal posts to take the field the place went nuts. It was love at first site for this 10 year old and I’ve been hooked ever since. Never missed a game until I came to Roanoke College, and then I started to go to games here on Friday nights.
I never played high school football. My mom was one of those mothers who thought anything slightly dangerous was sure to kill me. She warned me about motorcylces from a young age and I was always forced to wear my rubbers on days when there was even a slight chance of rain. Wouldn’t want to get wet feet and die of pneumonia.
I’ll always remember my mom talking about her Uncle Frank. He was a star player for the local high school team until he injured his knee. He went on to be the butcher at the grocery store where my mom shopped and she would always point out that he had a slight limp because he hurt his knee playing football. Likewise, a neighbor down the street only had one arm because he got sideswiped while driving with his arm out the drivers’ side window. I heard about that every time I rolled down the car window in the back seat.
If I had it to do over again I would have put up a fuss until she said I could play, but then there are lots of things I would have done differently if I knew what I know now. So, instead of playing football I became the sports editor of our high school paper and wrote stories about the games. I rode the bus with the team to away games and, looking back, it was probably the start of what would become my career. Thanks mom.
Here in Virginia I’m sure many kids feel just like I did at 10 years old. My sports heroes were the high school football players, and if you saw them in the drug store or the park you felt like you were among celebrities.
This fall is going to be tough for a lot of us. I still feel like that 10 year old kid who gets chills when the home team takes the field, but for the first time in 58 years that’s not going to happen. It’s going to leave a void in many of our lives.
With that said, I understand. It’s not worth dying over and when we get this vaccine I’m optimistic things will be back to normal. I pray to God this will pass.
And on a side note, my mom’s Uncle Frank would eventually quit his job as a butcher to become a minister and maybe that football injury had a part in that. We should all be praying for better days in this strange time in our lives.