Monday, December 24, 2012

Harry’s High School Football Game

Harry’s High School Football Game
A Harry Miles Short Short
Ed Benjamin

Harry looked at the ball tumbling as it sailed its way down field.  He could tell it was headed straight for him.

He barely heard the crowds cheering as he gauged the approaching ball.  It was the opening game of the season.  It was a regional North Carolina tradition which had begun eight years earlier pitting the AA team of A.L. Brown High School of Kannapolis against the AAAA team from Grimsley High School in Greensboro.   Someone said it started when a former Grimsley ‘Whirlies’ star became the coach of the lesser ranked AA Wonders’ in Kannapolis about 60 miles away..  Traditionally, the Kannapolis team got stomped; or as the Greensboro pundits would declare, “they got their butts handed to them again this year.”  The Greensboro press likened the games as “practice sessions.”

No one knew why the tradition continued, but it did.  Now the Wonders were trying to upgrade their football program from AA to AAA.  The school expected to receive the AAA rating within the next two years.  As a result, the Wonder Football Boosters had lobbied unsuccessfully for the coach and the school to cancel this rivalry so that each season would not start with a major loss.   

All this meant little to Harry because he was focused on receiving the opening kick of the game and fulfilling his assigned job which the coach had assigned to him.  They had practiced this several times and Harry had been assigned to receive on the left side of the field while Gene, the fullback had the right side.

“Get the ball to Roger.” The coach had drummed into their heads time and time again and they had spent countless hours practicing various ways to do that.

Roger was a halfback the same as Harry and Gene was the fullback.  The Boosters had let out an agonizing cry when they lined up to receive the kickoff.  Normally, there was a special team to return kickoffs.  Both Roger and Harry were sophomores. This was the second season they had played North Carolina High School football and more often than not they started. Gene, a senior, was also on the field and he was the most experienced fullback beginning his third season of play.  The crowd was visibly upset and vocal.   After all, you don’t waste your starters on kickoff returns.

It was a simple plan.  Lateral or hand off the football to Roger Hobson, the fastest player on the team and let him work his magic.  The players had speculated that Roger would advance the ball to the forty or fifty yard line and give the Wonders a chance to score.  Most of the players were enthusiastic about this strategy since the Wonders had been scoreless against the Whirlies for the past four years.  The team members wanted desperately to get on the scoreboard.

Harry focused on the ball.  He had always had the ability to concentrate on the task at hand, a trait which would serve him well in the future. 

The ball landed in his arms and he began running cross field faking a handoff to Gene and tucking the ball against his side.  He saw Roger headed toward him and the handoff went smoothly.  The transfer took place at the three yard line and Harry continued toward the other side of the field pretending he still had the ball tucked inside.

He did not see Roger after that because of Dink Black.

Dink Black was a 300 pound junior who played Tackle for Greensboro.  There were rumors about Dink throughout the state.  First, the High School did not have a uniform big enough for Dink so the Whirlies had to go to the North Carolina State college football team for uniforms to fit Dink.  You did not want to meet Dink in a game, especially if you had the ball.  When Greensboro played him during the game, Dink would mow down the defensive line trying to get to the player with the ball.  He tired easily and wasn’t that good.  He never got credit for a tackle but when they played him, he made serious dents in the defensive line.  The Greensboro coach would play him about once or twice a game and on occasion when it was deemed that speed was not a problem, as a Special Teams member on kickoffs.  

Harry did not get to see the result of his handoff to Roger because when he reached the side of the field and turned as if to run the ball down field, he saw Dink running for him head on.
Harry quickly assessed the situation.  Dink had been running for about thirty yards and was obviously out of breath.  In a few spilt seconds, Harry imagined he felt the turf heave under Dink’s thudding feet.  He heard Dink’s labored breathing.  The realization dawned on Harry that Dink was still under the impression that Harry had the football.

There was no escape so Harry did the only thing he could think of doing.  He turned so he was facing full body toward Dink and held his arms out so Dink could see he did not have the football.  To his credit, Dink did try to stop.

Harry learned a valuable Physics lesson that day.  “A body in motion will remain in motion.” 

Harry did not really recover from the impact until the third quarter and it was minutes after the play that he learned that Roger amazed the crowd with his speed by running ninety-seven yards for a touchdown.  It was the first score against Greensboro in four years.

The enthusiasm among the team was so great that Kannapolis won the game 31 to 28, ended up with a 9-1 win/loss record, and became the North Carolina AA State Champions.

In one game, Harry learned the importance of coming back from a crushing blow, the value of surprise, and how enthusiasm can lift the human spirit. 

Harry’s best friend, Roger, never played football again, but that is a story for another day.

Author’s note:  Thank you for reading this story.  I hope you enjoyed it.  Ed 

If you are interested in how Harry did or did not apply these lessons flying company as an Air Force fighter pilot, you can check out Harry's War, available on Kindle or wherever digital books are sold.

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