Attend virtually any high school football game on a given Friday night or Saturday afternoon and you’ll encounter several distinct groups of people within the crowd at large. There are the students who attend as a social event, noses pressed into their phones throughout much of the contest. Many may not know the difference between a tight end or a quarterback. They often have no idea what is transpiring on the field of play but they are just there. There are the youngsters behind the sidelines, oblivious to the happenings on the grand field. After all, these future stars have their own gridiron wars going on, making up their own rules as they go along.
There, of course, are the parents of the players, many of whom we’ve never seen prior to their sons taking the field. Likely they will be gone after their child graduates, never to be seen in the stands again. There are those who graduated from their alma mater thirty years ago, who still can’t see beyond their school’s colors. The pom-poms still wave in their hearts. Rarely do they go too far out of town. The old rivalries and grudges still play out.
Then there are the fans, not fans really, but more observers. It doesn’t mean they don’t have passion, they do, but that passion is directed towards the sport rather than a particular team or school. They have their favorites, sure, the home fires still burn, but there is an objectivity that is rare. They are looking for greatness to be praised.
Whenever I attend a high school sporting event, I like to search out these type of people to view the game with. I would consider myself to be in this category as well, the passionate, objective observer. While I still pull for my alma mater, Bangor High School, I did graduate twenty-six years ago. I do not have children and I’m not a coach. Yes, I have preferences but my allegiance at this point is to excellence. I’ll go to where the most interesting games are being played.
I enjoy bumping into people at games who also don’t have a dog in the fight but yet have the same passion for youth sports as I. Many faces come to mind, some I don’t remember their names, but depending on where I go we share good conversations. Those who have been around a while, I’ll just sit and listen. One individual who comes to mind is my good friend Les Stevens. Les grew up in football crazed Winslow and has seen his share of good football in the Pine Tree State. Les’ football history is as diverse as any follower of high school football I’ve had the pleasure to meet.
He lived in central Maine during his favorite era of Maine high school football: the Pine Tree Conference in the eighties. He religiously watched coaching icons roam the sidelines. Names such as Wolfgram, Violette, Cooper, and Caldwell were heavyweights at that time. In fact, he would take vacation time to watch John Wolfgram’s two-a-day practices at Gardiner. Moving north to the Bangor area he followed Bangor football and Gabby Price’s charges through the 90’s. A final move to Sanford, where he currently resides, brought him to SMAA country in the early 2000’s.. You’ll find Les at whatever games are good in the area with his binoculars in tow, wanting to catch an up-close glimpse of the action. Due to the diverse places Stevens has lived, he offers an historical perspective few other fans offer.
Oh, Stevens is quick to point out his preferences. He’s not a huge fan of the modern day spread offense although he is starting to warm up to it. Les like his football old school. He loves teams that pound the rock out of the I, power I, or wing T formations, squads that line it up and play who’s tougher than who football. To him that is the essence of the game.
Steve Hathaway is also a gentlemen I’ve come to respect in high school athletics. The voice of the Bucksport Golden Bucks still pulls for the hometown team but yet remains objective in following the local sports scene. Hathaway is always thinking outside the box, looking for new ways to improve the games he loves. He is not only one to point out problems, he offers thoughtful solutions.
When I travel around to various locales I make it a point to avoid the parent section. Sharing games with those like myself who just enjoy watching the kids putting forth their best effort is a treat in and of itself.