…whether you missed me or not. Is it a positive thing that The Blog feels like a responsibility, one I’ve been shirking over the past week or so? I’m thinking that it is, even if I have good reasons (excuses) that I’ll appropriate in the coming days for content here at Old Road Apples, in the name of bringing you up to speed.
Now, before heading off in some vague, slightly distracted direction, I want to update everyone of the fate of the local high school football team, which I’ve written about off and on this fall. (here, here, and here). We last we left our intrepid over-achievers they were headed into the maw of the number one seed in their district, Central Valley High School, considered #4 in the state and led by Pitt recruit Jordan Whitehead, a do-everything lightning fast athlete. It would be a long-shot by any accounting, but I wasn’t alone in thinking that the good guys might have a chance to pull off an upset. A small chance, but a chance.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be. We drove to the game last Friday night knowing that our highly-lauded quarterback, diagnosed with a concussion symptoms earlier in the week, would sit out. His replacement would be another standout athlete, starting wide receiver Dylan Stapleton, who had exactly one week of practice at the position.
It wouldn’t be a Friday Night Lights happy ending. The weather turned bitter, below 40 degrees by kickoff, and a disappointing number of fans made the one-hour drive to the game–our contingent numbered about 200, mostly parents and teachers, some recent alumni, and a few people like us who just went because we knew the kids and wanted to see this fantastic season through, despite the likely outcome.
Worse yet, the band showed up late, missing the national anthem and kickoff, shuffling ambivalently into the bleachers in jeans and sneakers. Someone cracked a joke about holding a bake sale to buy the band director a wrist watch and uniforms for the band–a sad reference to the fact that despite all appearances, our school district had recently spent $94, 460 on new band uniforms. I wouldn’t have thought that I could be embarrassed by something like this, but I wasn’t the only person there who thought it was both a slight to the football team and an affront to the entire community.
On the field, things were wholly different. Whitehead was not just unstoppable, but untouchable, the quickest as well as fastest high school athlete I’ve ever seen on a field. He seemed to blur on the field, his changes of direction appearing to be sudden and immediate. We fell behind quickly 7-0, 14-0, 21-0… but I couldn’t shake the sense that had our own offense been intact, the boys could have made a game of it. Our fullback provided his usual 5 yards per carry, and the option plays were there, but the lack of passing allowed CV to stack the box.
It ended 41-14, but the strange thing is that it never felt like we were watching a blowout. Sometimes, the second half of a game gone beyond reach can become almost interminable, but even with the game pretty obviously out of reach the boys never stopped, hitting hard and making plays right up to the end. Dylan was heroic–when it was clear that the timing wasn’t there for much of a passing game the defense came after him, and he absorbed a lot of hits. There is also the fact that he’d taken on a responsibility and it was clear that the loss was weighing on him, but here’s the thing: the kid is a star at his regular position and he steps into a the center spotlight and gives it his best. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a performance so admirable. A lesser man could have backed off for a challenge that seemed insurmountable. A lesser team would have folded after the second quick score put them in the hole.
I expected nothing less. I’ve attended fewer games in recent years, after the friend I used to watch with got divorced and moved away, but my daughters date boys on this team and, as I’ve said before, I’ve known many of the key players since they were knee high. I went to see those kids play, but this team has been an inspiration all season–a small group, the smallest team in memory, in terms of sheer numbers, from whom little had been expected, never gave up on a game, never lowered themselves to poor sportsmanship despite the comportment of a few of their opponents (I’m talking to you, Hollidaysburg, Greensburg-Salem and West Mifflin), and always always always represented the community in a way to make us all proud. I certainly never expected that, and it’s probably why the band’s insulting appearance draws my ire (and lets be clear, we’re talking about the faculty here, not the kids who take their lead from them). So much is said about athletes, particularly football players, being dolts or douchebags, getting special treatment, all that crap, and sometimes with good reason–but this team, what a great bunch of guys. It’s humbling that the best I can do is rave about them here, in a forum they’re unlikely to read, and at the same time offer my thanks and appreciation for a season well done.
Way to represent, gentlemen!