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Miss Me? Well, I’m Back…(with a football update and more)

Photo Shamelessly Pilfered from Scoopbug @ the Indiana Gazette  http://www.indianagazette.com/pages/site/scoopbug/
Photo Shamelessly Pilfered from Scoopbug @ the Indiana Gazette http://www.indianagazette.com/pages/site/scoopbug/

…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!

 

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Local Football Playoffs–An Update

Tsudy blasts a hole for Zilinskas. Awesome photo by Scoopbug (give them money) http://www.indianagazette.com/pages/site/scoopbug/

I’ve been talking about the local high school football team a lot over the past two months–it’s been an exciting year, watching kids I’ve known since preschool and kindergarten compete like the fine young men they’ve become, and I feel compelled to keep you informed.  Just in case.

There was a considerable supply of joy in Mudville on Friday night, and the local High School team fought it’s way through the opening round of the playoffs.  It is a big deal, considering this particular group of kids has never been wildly successful, but they pulled together at the right time, with a effort worthy of high praise.  We’re a small, rural college town on the periphery of the powerful, Pittsburgh-based WPIAL league, with just 38 guys on the roster.*  Usually, when it comes time for the playoffs, you hear a lot of “almosts” and “nearlys” around town, but this is a rare year.  We have a core of exceptional talents and a whole lot of kids who have worked hard year-round to learn the skills they need to do their part. It has been an honor watching them reach their potential after a rocky start.

J D Hilditch gets a sack. Awesome photo by Scoopbug (give them money) http://www.indianagazette.com/pages/site/scoopbug/
J D Hilditch gets a sack. Awesome photo by Scoopbug (give them money) http://www.indianagazette.com/pages/site/scoopbug/

On Friday night, the sky thick with a drizzling rain that verged on sleet, the guys took it to a talented team from West Mifflin, a team which, by statistics, seemed virtually identical to ours–with the difference being that we’ve been powered by an accomplished passing game, while West Mifflin brought in a 1700+ yard running back and a team know for it’s speeding ground game.  Our team responded with a slug to the jaw as West Mifflin clamped down on our star receivers, running the ball down their throats all evening.  When Old Road Apples favorite Connor Tshudy went down with an injury after pounding his way to 50 yards on 8 carries in the first half, the next guy up came in after halftime and got things done in a big way.

At the end of the night, the good guys won 42-12, and will move on next Friday to face Central Valley, a juggernaut of a team with D1 recruits, the number one seed in the league, and a #4 overall ranking in the state going into last weekend’s games.  On paper, it doesn’t seem like our guys have a chance, but I wouldn’t bet against the team I’ve been watching this season.

http://www.indianagazette.com/news/indiana-sports/indiana-advances-to-face-top-seed,20871635/

*Not that we’re complaining…some kids do more with a whole hell of a lot less.  (updated link to follow tonight)

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Commentary

And The Home Team Makes The Playoffs

Indiana vs Hollidaysburg Football Photo by: Scoopbug http://news.scoopbug.com/index.php
http://news.scoopbug.com/index.php

Friday night, the local high school team, which we follow more closely than usual of late, owing to our familiarity with many of the players, pulled out another big win, and I’d be remiss not to mention it.  We live in a small town–about 30,000 folks in the two municipalities that, together, form our community, a university town surrounded by rolling foothills, agricultural land, spent coal mines and natural gas wells.  We’ve known a lot of these young men since preschool and kindergarten, and have watched them grow from awkward kids into accomplished athletes, students, and gentlemen.

http://www.indianagazette.com/news/endzoneextra/unsung-players-usher-indiana-into-playoffs,20821395/

It’s a down year, numbers-wise, for a school that’s not the biggest in it’s class to begin with.  Our school district is fortunate to offer kids a lot of opportunities–and the number of participants is down in general, although this year’s success should help.  The quality of play is not down, however.  The quarterback and receivers are arguably the best group of skill players ever put together locally, all time, and while not just a small in number, but physically smaller than many other teams, these kids never stop putting up a fight.  Perhaps more importantly, the guys I know are good, polite, academically accomplished students who don’t fit the usual stereotypes of high school jocks, particularly football players. I’m sure they’ve got their secrets–I know I did–but I have to say I’ve been honored to have them represent our community.

Of course, the pair of them who date my daughters better not take this praise for granted, and would still be wise to fear me.

 

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Journal Uncategorized

An Exhausting, But Damn Fine Weekend Part 1: Swimming District Championships

I don’t keep a diary or journal all that often–scrawled notes, here and there–of things I want to remember, but the majority of my life I’ve confined to the dark recesses of my increasingly lethargic memory.  Occasionally, I take an exception and inflict the journaling on you, gentle readers.

Cardiac_Hill; Michael Rosella 1953
That’s me in the skirt.

At the end of last week my kids and their team-mates traveled to Trees Pool at the University of Pittsburgh for the WPIAL District Swimming Championships. It’s a love-hate thing–we love our swimmers, but this event is perennially noted for sub-zero temperatures and nearly impossible parking.  The Pool is located at the top of a step hill, and the University parking lots are reserved for faculty and students, the hospital and business garages are posted “lease only”–some have even made special signs, just for us “NO SWIMMER PARKING.”  Pittsburgh is a very friendly town, but UPMC –whose garages had those signs–is another matter.  Their signs pretty much screamed “Fuck You.”  Big surprise.

trees-poolIt seemed hellacious at the time–we parked about a mile away–and half a mile vertically–in the bitter cold.  Afflicted with a nagging cold and what turned out to be bronchitis, my throat seized shut the moment I began exerting myself in those temperatures, which was scary but gave me new understanding of what it’s like to deal with asthma.  It sucks, by the way.

FFH-FullHouseFortunately, I survived, as did my friend Skip who, wearing just a thin leather jacket, stuck with my slow progress up the hill, didn’t flinch at my frequent stops for binges of disconcerting hacking-coughing-gurgling-convulsing. The guy had to be freezing his ass off–and he also dealt with navigating his Suburban through all that city traffic.  Kudos to Skip.

IMG_6573The meet went well–our girls finished high in both relays–200 Medley and 200 Freestyle, qualifying for the PIAA State Championships, with both of my daughters posting significant time drops.  One of the girls did very well in an individual event, also, nailing another spot at States.  On the boys side, the results were similar. On day two, the girls qualified a third relay and one of our other swimmers finished second overall in her premier event.  All in all it was a spectacular pair of days in what was supposed to be a “down” year with a diminished roster–the boys finished IMG_7375fourth overall, the girls fifth, and the only that lack of depth kept us from contending for the District Championships, but we won our Section handily–as we usually do–something none of the marquee teams (football, basketball, etc) can boast.

We stopped for a celebratory visit at a TGI Fridays which was fun, but not awesome.  They refused to take reservations for our party of 40 parents, coaches, and athletes, so the kids didn’t get to sit together or even get seated or served at the same time–but those of us who weren’t behind the wheel got to down a few cold Yeunglings while we waited for tables to open.  The great thing about swimming is that the parents and athletes are all pretty great–not just on our team, but in general.  I think it comes down to the fact that it’s all about quantifiable results.  If your kid makes a relay over my kid, it’s generally because your kid is faster–it’s difficult, and counter-productive, for coaches to play favorites.  We cheer for our kids as individuals, but the big accolades come from team success, which also helps.  Finally, swimming is AWFUL–it’s grueling, mind-numbing, exhausting, repetitive, and somewhat lonely.  Success requires great discipline and sacrifice, which more than anything else serves to weed out the assholes.  Even the most naturally talented kids ultimately fall short if they don’t do the work.  Those left are quality–though sometimes quirky!–individuals, an almost literal crucible.

 

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Photo I Like

Bonus Photo: Swimming Ladies

How fast time flies….

IMG_6573