Sunday, August 27, 2006

First Game Thoughts of 2006

Loco Helmet
Originally uploaded by mdt1960.
After all these years of documenting small town high school football in Wyoming and Montana, one would think the gridiron in Cody, Wyoming (just down the road 22 miles) was covered years ago. However, I ashamed to say that last night was my first game in Cody.

As expected, neither team was very polished and neither was I when it came to working with my equipment in this initial outing of the 2006 season. The cameras felt awkward in my hands and often I found myself not very decisive in how to go about my work. Nevertheless, it was worth attending as the 5A Cody Broncs of Wyoming hosted Montana's Class A Laurel Locomotives.

Laurel has great tradition in football—a few years ago they won it all in Class A play. The number of Laurel fans in attendance almost matched the Cody fans. It seems that there are so many things going on in Cody, one gets the impression that high school football doesn't stand out like it might in a place like Laurel.

The Locomotive roster was smaller in numbers, but for the most part their starting eleven matched up well with Cody's first team. Either school could have won this game dominated by turnovers and costly mistakes. In the end, it was Cody who gave the game to Laurel although Laurel tried hard to give it to the Broncs. Laurel 6, Cody 2. Despite a threatening drive near the end, Laurel held off the Broncs and celebrated wildly on the field as if they'd won another state title.

Then there was this stupid cold from "down under" that I picked up from my wife who acquired it from her daughters when they returned from Australia for the summer. And if it weren't for having a cold, between the second and third quarters the rain came down in buckets that left me with a bad chill—suddenly summer seemed long gone.

My weather-proof Olympus digital camera held up well during the rain—in fact so well, I couldn't turn it off... Hmmm, perhaps some dampened circuitry in there somewhere. Hopefully a couple days of drying out will take care of that little glitch.

Perhaps the newest thing about the infant football season has to do with growing old. It seems that my eyes have finally weakened enough that a pair of reading glasses are needed along with the light meter, extra batteries and film when I take to the gridirons. This is a problem that I haven't quite determined how to solve. Undoubtedly by season's end, I should have an acceptable solution to this newest twist of life.

Monday, August 14, 2006

An End to the End of the Summertime Blues

Koach Kevin
Originally uploaded by mdt1960.
November 1999

Everyone knows how satisfying it can be to find one’s car keys or wallet after a lengthy search. If you stop and think about it, there are probably few experiences in life that result in greater happiness than a successful find in a time-consuming search. Whether it be that five minute search for the keys or a lifelong search for the meaning of life, such searches are always fulfilling once they are completed. In the searches of life, we often discover that what we were looking for was right under our nose as in the case of my longtime search for a cure to the end-of-summertime blues.

It seemed like every year around mid-August, I came to the realization that summer was winding down and the season of frolic was nearly over. As a child, the arrival of school only contributed to this mild depression associated with summer’s curtain call. The cure was within reach, but I just couldn’t see it and certainly never would have guessed how to administer the remedy had I found it as a child. Like a bottle of aspirin hidden behind the countless other drugs in a medicine cabinet, I’ve overlooked football or (at least discounted it) as a remedy to my annual end-of-summer gloom. I know this must be hard for some people to believe.

Growing up in a Mecca of gridiron football, it’s easy to take the game for granted and look past it just like that overlooked bottle of aspirin. Football’s abundance at every level of play in Northeast Ohio left me feeling like a shark at a shipwreck—just too many choices. Only in my latter years did I realize that it wasn’t just football, but which type of football.

In my early years, watching professional football on TV was a weekly event. On Sunday afternoons, CBS and NBC carried the NFL games with the likes of Curt Gowdy and Al DeRogatis and we would take in every broadcast until no more was offered. Nevertheless, keeping up with professional football wasn’t a passion and deep in my heart I knew it, so my dim outlook on the world resurfaced each year as summer showed signs of giving way to autumn. The promise of another professional football season via TV in our stuffy living room on Sunday afternoons was no substitute for the endless days of summer’s frolic.

In my high school years, beyond my own pathetic participation in the game, I discovered the excitement of college football in Columbus, Ohio via Ohio State University. I found the games there to be faster and less predictable than the skilled play of pro football on TV. The huge stadium swelled in colours of red and gray while the Buckeye all brass marching band swept everyone up in its ritualistic stadium entrance. Columbus, Ohio was (and probably still is) a great place to discover college football. Nevertheless, sometimes the ordeal and the financial commitment of getting tickets for a Buckeye game overcame the desire to attend and in the end, my days of Ohio living were soon behind me.

As a college football cheerleader at Arizona State, I was surely (although temporarily) distracted from my depression associated with the end of summer. No doubt, summer’s demise in Arizona isn’t quite as pronounced as it’s swan song in places like Ohio or Wyoming. And tumbling in front of 70,000 spectators and lifting beautiful girls on the sidelines is a sure distraction to whatever may follow summer’s conclusion in the blistering Sonora Desert.

Years past and in my late twenties and through a good part of my third decade, there was no significant football in my world. Those were the darkest autumns and winters I’ve known. I simply blamed it on the summers not being long enough. I failed to acknowledge the absence of any kind of football in my life.

Moving to Wyoming and reintroducing myself to high school football was a key turning point in my return to the light. Yet despite this boost, I still wasn’t aware of football’s helping hand in my brighter disposition throughout the autumn and winter seasons.

It’s hard to say what particular attribute of the football season brought me to my awakened sense of enlightenment. Maybe it was the free admission at all Wyoming high school games, or the securing of a state title in an overlooked town like Byron, Wyoming. Nevertheless, this fall my epiphany in football was confirmed while standing in the wide open places of Montana where I discovered six-man and eight-man football.

Summer’s ending is now small town high school football’s beginning. Yes, there is still some “down time” for me following the end of this season, but it is tolerable—perhaps even welcomed in the short time that it finds me. For not much longer than a month after the championship games end, the days start growing longer, signaling summer’s return.

Now, I’m already looking beyond the summer to another autumn—a first in my life. These days when I pour over a map of Wyoming or Montana I find myself searching for and pondering any one of the given small towns—wondering if I’ll be present on a future game day. And there’s no greater happiness than putting your finger on something that has taken up nearly a lifetime of searching.