There was I, camera and notebook in hand, close to the action and overhearing the coaches bitch.
I would always try and get a safe shot in the bag in case I screwed everything up. Or my camera froze.
Back then it was film. Then being 1996-1999. Not only was it film but I was developing the strip and manipulating the enlarger to make the prints. I think I was part of the last class year in college (Class of 1996) to learn to develop and process film. I’d push Kodak T-max 1600 black and white to 3200 film speed and hope the graininess gaps weren’t as big as the players heads. The small weekly was a little behind the technological times. We even still did some paste up – a tradition that lasted at smaller weekly newspapers longer than most.
The film processing was the easy part. That only resulted in fingers which smelled of chemicals; there was no threat of losing them to frostbite.
In upper eastern Washington, often it was too dang cold to think clearly, much less write. I had learned to bring a pencil because the ink in a pencil – of which there is none – can’t freeze.
I couldn’t wear gloves because I needed to hold that pencil, press the camera buttons and be able to wind onto the next shot. And I didn’t think fingerless gloves were useful because it was always my fingertips that were the coldest, anyhow.
That safe photo would be a close-up of the coach talking – hopefully animatedly – to a player or players. It would be the players faces, grim usually; young faces hunkered down between bulked out shoulders. They wanted to play. If only because it was warmer that way. I often wondered if they ever wondered what they were doing out there. I asked a few times in post-game interviews and always heard no. At least when I had the notepad out.
Almost always, unless I was truly miserable and afraid cracking a smile in the wind-freeze would actually crack my face, I stepped over to the stands. Look for the family shots, the old guy, the reliable, enduring fan shot. I’d see if the cheerleaders were doing anything but being braver then the rest of us in their short skirts.
The band. I always wanted a band shot but rarely saw anything different from every other band shot – at least what I could do with it being dark and them up in the stands. I always wanted to see icicles hanging inside the tuba bell. It was never that cold, though.
I didn’t go in the announcer’s booth – ever – because that’s cheating. You can’t cover a game there. Besides, there was always some kind of stale smell in there that made standing next to the perspiring defensive coach seem like A Glade room freshener.
Well, after a six year gap, I’m back on the field. I’m again filling in as editor at the weekly Florence Reminder and Blade-Tribune (Long name, longer story). This time I’m in Arizona’s autumn and still-mid-80s-at-7 p.m. weather and I’ll be wiping away the sweat while putting stars next to potential key plays, the hooks of my story.
The “what if” moments.
A sports story is, at its center, a conflict, so it pretty much writes itself. But you – meaning I – still have to observe who does what, where on the field, when and to who. And, if you can figure it out, why.
Below is a story I wrote this week about a renewed rivalry of two neighboring town. It was published Thursday.
Tomorrow night an old rivalry is re-ignited and the old shoe may have to be found again. It’s the Florence Gophers against the Coolidge Bears on the gridiron for the first time since 1994.
“It’s a tough, tough game,” said Gophers head coach Shawn Cluff. “They are a solid team and we’re going to have to play our best football.”
Coach Cluff, if he remembers the game, may hope history does not repeat itself.
On Sept. 2, 1994 Shawn Cluff was a ruddy-faced new recruit to the district, a seventh grade science teacher and in his first game as assistant varsity football coach.
On that same date, the Gophers got chased into the ground in a 35-0 loss to the Bears.
Reporter Josh Noel described the scene:
“With the second quarter winding down slowly and the Florence High School football team struggling to piece its program back together after last year’s disasterous season, the Gophers received a hit that jolted … everybody.
“Quarterback Frank Jimenez, the receiver of the hit, was unconscious and sprawled out in the middle of the field. Russ Talas, Jimenez’ backup, was unprepared and admittedly scared on the sideline. And first-year coach Mike Wright was trying to figure out how to get things back in order.
“The result of the disarray wasn’t pretty – a 35-0 whipping by host Coolidge in the non-conference season opener for both teams.”
At the time, Florence was a 2A school and Coolidge a 3A school. This year the Gophers are a 3A school. The two neighboring teams have not met on the field since then. At all.
That changes tomorrow as the Gophers host the Bears. Though some memories differ, the 1995 football preview program shows Florence coming off a 4-6 season (a turnaround from its 1993 1-8 record) and Coolidge is not on its schedule.
Sept 2, 1994 is Coach Mike Wright’s debut and the Coolidge head coach is Larry Delbridge. This time around, Cluff has moved up and is in his fifth year as head coach. While the two teams battle it out physically on the field, Cluff will battle wits and strategies with Bears head coach Carlo Hernandez on the sidelines.
Still, Cluff says he has not been hyping the game as anything different.
“We’re not bringing up the past,” Cluff said. “We’re just going to go out there and try and give them a game and win.”
Though he was only on the coaching staff for that one game, Cluff is a FHS grad and himself a former member of the Gophers football team and remembers.
He remembers Cs carved into fields, turned into Gs. He remembers an old shoe trophy; a symbolic size 16 1/2 sneaker that has been passed between the two teams since the 1930s. (Did Coolidge look after that shoe?)
A game that occurred Sept 20, 1985 may be a better touchstone. That’s when Florence cut down an eight-year losing streak to the Bears and won easily, 28-6.
After all the careful tones and caution, the traditional tenor of a high school football coach, the memories come to the forefront. Cluff can’t help himself.
“It was a good rivalry,” he said. “It’s a great game. A huge game.”