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Written by: Sykotyk on Saturday, July 31st, 2021
Unlike in past years, I can safely say that 2020 was a year unlike any other. As the season neared, there was an increasing likelihood of there not even being a season. Covid-19 was having its way with most everyone’s plans. And at some point I had resigned myself to just going with the flow and see what happens.
And for better or worse, 2020 had turned into one of my most memorable and somehow enjoyable seasons I’ve ever had. My third full year covering games for PA Football News took me on a wild ride to places I both wanted to go but hadn’t and places I never knew I wanted to. And I managed to knock off a few bucket-list worthy locales along the way.
With Pennsylvania indefinitely postponing their season at one point. And Ohio suspending their season for a few weekends, along with changes to schedules in Texas and Georgia, the start of my season was looking awfully shaky. The upper midweest was still playing on time. And the smaller schools of Texas. So, I went ahead with some preliminary plans in hopes that PA would follow through with a fall schedule. Or at the very least a Spring schedule while Ohio continued. New York had long sinced postponed their season to a potential spring kickoff.
In games I’ve attended, there were 6,649 points scored, for an average of 50.37 points per game (a 1.54/game drop from last year). The cumulative score was 4851-1798, for an average score of 36.75-13.62. Compared to 36.65-15.26 last year. A long spate of shutouts in the spring probably helped that along. The most points I saw was Balmorhea’s 74 in the Texas 1A Class II Championship Game in San Angelo, Texas. For 11-man, the most was 70, which happened twice, when Clinton-Massie (OH) hosted Batavia, and when Carthage beat Gilmer in another Texas state championship game.
States I watched games in:
45 – Pennsylvania
23 – Texas
21 – New York
14 – Ohio
6 – Mississippi
6 – South Dakota
3 – North Dakota
3 – Virginia
2 – Maryland
2 – Montana
2 – Tennessee
2 – Utah
1 – Arkansas
1 – Colorado
1 – Kansas
Championship Games by State:
12 – Texas
6 – South Dakota
6 – Mississippi
6 – Pennsylvania
1 – Arkansas
States of Teams I’ve Seen:
92 – Pennsylvania
46 – Texas
42 – New York
25 – Ohio
12 – Mississippi
12 – South Dakota
10 – Virginia
6 – North Dakota
4 – Maryland
4 – Montana
4 – Utah
2 – Arkansas
2 – Colorado
2 – Kansas
1 – West Virginia
Teams I’ve seen multiple times:
4x – Clymer/Sherman/Panama (NY), Salamanca (NY)
3x – Elma Iroquois (NY), Philadelphia Roxborough (PA)
2x – Abingdon (VA), Akron (NY), Aledo (TX), Atwater Waterloo (OH), Bemus Point Maple Grove (NY), Bessemer Mohawk (PA), Brooklyn Abraham Lincoln (NY), Cedar Hill (TX), Denton Ryan (TX), Euless Trinity (TX), Fredonia (NY), Gibsonia Pine-Richland (PA), Jamestown Southwestern (NY), Philadelphia Boys Latin Charter (PA), Philadelphia Frankford (PA), Philadelphia Kensington (PA), Philadelphia West Catholic (PA), Southlake Carroll (TX), Staten Island New Dorp (NY)
Prior to the Texas state finals, I actually saw very few teams a second time. Only Mohawk, who were at Ellwood City Lincoln (the first PA game I saw), who were then on the road at Neshannock the following Thursday; Waterloo in Ohio who were at Lowellville (in Struthers) on a Saturday night and at home on Thursday night in a consolation game. And finaly Pine-Richland in the PA State Semifinal and the championship game.
After that, the large Texas schools were playing from Christmas through the middle of January. So, I did see several twice in Arlington. In the spring, I somehow managed Abingdon twice, followed by a plethora of Philadelphia schools and then New York schools in the abbreviated season. Including CSP and Salamanca four times each. And to cap off the season, was 5 games in New York City. Including games twice at both Abraham Lincoln and New Dorp.
Most points (one team):
74 – Balmorhea (TX) v. Richland Springs (1/5, 74-38) (6-man) [Championship]
70 – Clarksville Clinton-Massie (OH) v. Batavia (9/21, 70-14)
70 – Carthage (TX) v. Gilmer (12/18, 70-14) [Championship]
68 – Sterling City (TX) v. May (12/16, 68-22 F/3rd 9:37) (6-man) [Championship]
68 – Elma Iroquois (NY) v. Youngstown Lewiston-Porter (4/23, 68-6)
Fewest points (one team):
0 – 29x (shutouts in 11 different states)
Most points (combined):
112 – Balmorhea (74) v. Richland Springs (38) (1/5, San Angelo, TX) (6-man) [Championship]
100 – Aledo (52) v. Lucas Lovejoy (48) (1/1, Arlington, TX)
94 – Euless Trinity (49) v. Allen (45) (12/26, Arlington, TX)
94 – Southlake Carroll (59) v. Euless Trinity (35) (1/2, Arlington, TX)
92 – Gibsonia Pine-Richland (48) v. Shillington Governor Mifflin (44) (11/21, Hollidaysburg, PA)
Fewest points (combined):
6 – Salamanca (6) v. Portville (0) (5/9, Portville, NY)
8 – Stanton (8) v. San Angelo Grape Creek (0) (8/28, Stanton, TX)
12 – Canistota/Freeman (12) v. Warner (0) (11/12, Vermillion, SD) (9-man) [Championship]
13 – Marion Center (13) v. Northern Cambria (0) (10/24, Marion Center, PA)
16 – Bridgeville Chartiers Valley (9) v. McDonald South Fayette (7) (9/18, Bridgeville, PA)
10/02 – New Castle Union (20) v. Coraopolis Cornell (18), New Castle, PA
10/17 – Harmony Seneca Valley (19) v. Pittsburgh Baldwin (16), Harmony, PA
12/17 – Tuscola Jim Ned (29) v. Hallettsville (28), Arlington, TX [Championship]
01/02 – Cedar Hill (27) v. Rockwall-Heath (24), Arlington, TX
05/15 – Buffalo Maritime/Health Sciences (26) v. Elma Iroquois (20), Buffalo, NY (2OT) [Championship]
06/05 – Staten Island New Dorp (30) v. Staten Island Susan Wagner (28), Staten Island, NY
Most Memorable Games:
As I’ve done in previous seasons, I’m going to list my most memorable games. This is not a list of the ‘best games’. There’s many great games that will just wash away from one to the next. Several games in Mississippi were great, and I remember details about them, but they don’t stand out as I look back on the season. And yet some great games will be memorable. Sometimes it’s just where I’m at that can be memorable. I thought about listing the first game of the season. Given everything that happened with Covid made the first game memorable in its own right. But, I think that’s setting things up too simply. Of course the first game is memorable. Has been for some time. But not necessarily list-worthy.
Now, in the past, I usually limited this list to just 5 or 10 games. WIth 132 games in this extended season, and so much happening. I thought I’d go through in segments. Five at a time.
20200821 HSF BEACH (ND) 32, Hettinger/Scranton (ND) 8, Buccaneer Field, Beach, ND
20200828 HSF STANTON (TX) 8, San Angelo Grape Creek (TX) 0, Buffalo Stadium, Stanton, TX
20200911 HSF Bessemer Mohawk 45, ELLWOOD CITY LINCOLN 0, Helling Stadium, Ellwood City, PA
20200919 HSF Lakewood St. Edward 17, Cleveland St. Ignatius 0, FirstEnergy Stadium, Cleveland, OH
Beach v. Hettinger/Scranton
The first game of the group is Beach hosting Hettinger/Scranton. About a decade or more ago, I had passed through Beach and stopped and saw the football field from the gas station off Exit 1, in North Dakota. So, I went and took a look around. It was summer, and I went around the track a few times, went up into the stands, and took some photos with whatever nascient cell phone I had at the time. I have no clue where those photos might be. I would love to find them. But, I had always had Beach on my long-term bucket list. But, with the usual schedule, I just never considered making the trek to western North Dakota for games. And then Covid happened. Without football in Ohio or Pennsylvania, I decided after my two-game weekend in Utah, to make the trip to North Dakota. If I was going to be limited on games, I’d at least see the games that were noteworthy to me.
Plus, earlier in the offseason, I had talked to Coach Zier from Beach on Twitter. And was invited up if I ever had the chance. So, with 2020 being a complete b-i-t-c-h, I made the most of it. And went. And unlike a lot of games I put on a pedestal and then am disappointed, I wasn’t with Beach. Beach is a great place to see a game, and I will gladly return if the chance ever arises. I’ve also found a pretty cool Twitter account to follow in the process. I made plans then to attend the Heart River game the next day, who were hosting Bowman County. A team I had seen just the previous playoffs in Bowman.
Stanton v. Grape Creek
The next weekend was what originally was planned as the Jayton Kickoff Classic. A collection of 6-man games in Jayton. Nine games in total. With those games relocated to their host school stadiums, my Thursday and Friday options were limited. The first game of the season in Texas was going to be the Aspermont v. Turkey Valley game. Originally set for Jayton. Instead, now, relocated to the very small Aspermont not far from Jayton. So, I went there. But, the memorable game was Stanton. I had the entire state of Texas, practically to find a game for Friday. And though I originally had considered the Sterling City-Garden City game, I backed out of it.
It’s one of the decisions I had regretted, as I had talked to Garden City’s coach on Twitter quite a bit prior to this season even being on the horizon, and I knew it was going to be a 45 game. A 45 game being that a team leading by 45 points in the second half would end the game in 6-man. And for all the cost involved, I wanted to see a full game. And so, after having seen a 6-man game the previous night, I had planned to attend the Stanton-Grape Creek game. Stanton being a small town along I-20 between Big Spring and Midland. And being 11-man, I was guaranteed to at least get a full game in. And it turned out to be great. I got into town a few hours before the game. And managed to, in the 103F heat, wear a hole through the sole of my one shoe. The asphalt was just that hot. I was thankful that the turf they had installed was a new ‘cool’ turf, that didn’t hold heat. And it is a breakthrough that I hope other schools in the south swarm to.
The game itself, with all its pageantry, was 8-0, with just one TD in the north endzone. I had a lot of great photos from the game. And everything about the night was enjoyable.
Ellwood City Lincoln v. Mohawk
This game was only memorable because of Covid. The first game in Pennsylvania on the season. And it had no fans. Just a group huddled along the southern fence watching the game. For that reason alone, this game will be very memorable. Though not my last fanless game. It was the first. And I’ll never forget the odd feeling standing on a sideline with no fans behind me. I also got one of my best photos of the year, I felt, despite the complete lopsided score.
Lakewood St. Edward v. Cleveland St. Ignatius
The Cleveland Holy War was hosted by St. Ignatius at FirstEnergy Stadium. It was my second time on the field at the Browns stadium, but first holding a camera for a game. It was the 4th NFL stadium I had been on the field at. And 11th NFL stadium I had been at for a HS Football game, overall. The game was a bit one-sided, but close. Though not in doubt. And one of the St. Edward players threw up on the sideline. Right along the photographer’s line. So, that meant being aware of where you were standing toward that endzone. And of course, it was tracked around the field as unsuspecting players, officials, and other sideline crew walked through it.
And the next 5:
20201017 HSF HARMONY SENECA VALLEY 19, Pittsburgh Baldwin 16 (OT), NexTier Stadium, Harmony, PA
20201023 HSF NEW BRIGHTON 56, Ellwood City Riverside 22, Oak Hill Stadium, New Brighton, PA
20201107 HSF8 ST. FRANCIS (KS) 54, Bucklin (KS) 0 (F/Half), Greene Field, St. Francis, KS*
20201121 HSF Gibsonia Pine-Richland 48, Shillington Governor Mifflin 44, Tiger Stadium, Hollidaysburg, PA*
20201217 HSF Tuscola Jim Ned (TX) 29, Hallettsville (TX) 28 (OT), AT&T Stadium, Arlington, TX** (3AD1)
Seneca Valley v. Baldwin
This one went to overtime. It was low-scoring and was a last minute reschedule. Originally planned for Friday night, it was bumped to Saturday afternoon. Baldwin would scrape back from a 13-0 deficit, tie it late, at 13-13. In OT, they’d get a field goal, and Seneca Valley would score on a one-play TD to win it, 19-16. Also, got one of my favorite photos. A toe-just-off-the-line catch along the sideline.
New Brighton v. Riverside
I’ll be honest. Don’t remember much about the game itself. New Brighton dominated. What I do remember was that I had just bought a brand new camera. Only had it a few games. Arrived in New Brighton and stopped at the Welcome Sign to take a photo. Got the camera out, flipped the switch. Nothing. Changed the battery. Nothing. Tried every battery I owned. And I hadn’t thought to bring my old camera with me. So, wasting time, I drove up to the field. Got in. Being excluded from the field itself anyways, I would’ve had to shoot from behind the fence. But, without a working camera, could just sit in the stands and take notes and write a report of the game. And spent two hours intermittently fighting with my new camera to work. It never did. So, I do plan to return to New Brighton at some point. I also remembered to always bring my old camera with me. Even with its issues, it can still take photos. I returned the camera and bought a new one in person before my trip to South Dakota.
St. Francis v. Bucklin
So, I have ‘bucket list’ places to see games. Places I’ve stumbled upon during my travels. And one stretch I love is US36 through Kansas. There’s so many great towns along the way, but my favorite is arguably the last town heading west. St. Francis is a small farming town in the northwest corner of Kansas. And they play 8-man football in Kansas. And, for reasons I was not one hundred percent sure, they were hosting their playoff game against Bucklin on a Saturday afternoon. Having planned for another game at a bucket list location, Eads (CO) on Friday, it wasn’t that long of a trip to St. Francis for their game. I knew going in it was going to be a blowout. And, like Texas, they, too, utilize a 45-rule for their 8-man games. And St. Francis had a tendency to hit the 45-rule in virtually every game they’ve played. Their star running back was partly the reason. Shadyron Blanka may have been the best running back I saw all year. And there’s a reason he was recruited by Kansas State. There’s many reasons to argue an 8-man team player to be overlooked. But there was no overlooking Blanka.
St. Francis steamrolled through the first half. Tallying 54 first half points to make quick work of the Bucklin Red Aces. It was a quick afternoon. And though I did make one screw-up with my camera setting that had giving me trouble in the first quarter, I did get one of my favorite photos of 2020. A full-on sprint by Blanka on one of his many touchdowns.
Pine-Richland v. Governor Mifflin
This was probably the game of the year. And for personal reasons one to remember. Governor Mifflin, the spunky underdog, jumped out to a shocking 21-0 lead. Before slipping to a 21-19 margin. But then went up 41-19. Again, thinking the game would be over. But, again, the Rams of Pine-Richland would answer. Tying the game late. Governor Mifflin would go down the field and score a FG, to lead 44-41. And then, Pine-Richland’s QB would race to a 54 yard TD. And my photo would get used by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for their online story of the game.
Jim Ned v. Hallettsville
This was a shocking game. Jonathon Brooks, the Hallettsville RB, related to the Brooks brothers from Shiner who had just won a state title earlier in the weekend, seemed destined for his own hardware. Hallettsville jumped out to a 21-0 lead thanks to three Brooks TDs. He had 299 yards rushing for the game. But, after that third TD, he just couldn’t get in the endzone. And Jim Ned made a 21-point comeback to send it to OT. In overtime, Hallettsville would score first, to lead, 28-21. But Jim Ned would get a TD, and go for the win. a pass play. Over the head of Brooks defending on the play. 29-28 in OT.
And the third five:
20210101 HSF Arlington Mansfield Summit (TX) 41, Red Oak (TX) 38, Globe Life Park, Arlington, TX*
20210105 HSF6 Balmorhea (TX) 74, Richland Springs (TX) 38, San Angelo Stadium, San Angelo, TX** (1AD2)
20210226 HSF Fishersville Wilson Memorial (VA) 35, WAYNESBORO (VA) 8, Giants Stadium, Waynesboro, VA
20210401 HSF SALAMANCA (NY) 52, Bemus Point Maple Grove (NY) 6, Veterans Memorial Park, Salamanca, NY
20210501 HSF CLYMER/SHERMAN/PANAMA (NY) 26, Fredonia (NY) 0, Harry W. Brosius Field, Sherman, NY
Mansfield Summit v. Red Oak
I won’t say that I remember exactly how this game went. The number of ‘great games’ I saw at Arlington’s Globe Life Par were numerous. But, this is memorable because it was my first ever game in January. New Years Day, even. And I was back, again, after being there for a triple header on Boxing Day. Also, Mansfield Summit has some really cool decals for their linemen.
Balmorhea v. Richland Springs
My first time being on the sideline at a Texas state championship game. Sure, it wasn’t at AT&T Stadium. But, it still counts. The game was postponed due to Covid, and was scheduled for San Angelo. San Angelo Stadium is another bucket list locale, so it certainly wasn’t a bad thing. It was a fun, though never-in-doubt type of game. I did meet @sixmania at the game. Finally. Was a great night seeing Balmorhea win their first state title over one of the stalwarts of Texas HS Football. Richland Springs was going for their 10th title. Was a great night in West Texas.
Waynesboro v. Wilson Memorial
Fist game in February. Also, a snow bowl. It was one-sided. But I’ll never forget just how cold I was. I had grossly misjudged the temperature and had forgotten pants. I had thought I had packed them. But, I didn’t. The snow started on the drive through southeastern West Virginia. And had to stop in Lexington, Virginia to pick up a par of cheap sweats. But the wet snow didn’t care about what you were wearing. You were going to get soaked anyways. It was just at the temperature that everything melted the second it touched any part of you. This was also my second game ever in Virginia.
Salamanca v. Maple Grove
A Thursday night game that would probably be forgettable. If not for the snow. Just an incredible blizzard struck during the second quarter after already enough snow to coat the ground before the game. The whiteout conditions made photography interesting. If only the game could match the conditions. Salamanca won easily. And I would be back again. I figured for a snow-free game. I was wrong.
Clymer/Sherman/Panama v. Fredonia
This was my first game in Sherman, New York. It’s a unique field. In that is primarily just what it is. There are no stands. It just sits across the street with a small tunnel from the school. I passed by Sherman a few years ago, and pointed at the field on Twitter and that I would be at Panama for their game in a few weeks. That game, a 40-0 victory over Salamanca, would be my first CSP game. But not my last. And with the New York spring schedule, I ended up seeing all four home games. This was the regular season home finale, and cinched CSP’s spot in the playoffs. A semifinal home game against Southwestern. A matchup that had been scuttled earlier in the year by Covid. But, it was a beautiful day in Sherman. And I am a fan of Fredonia, as well. So, the matchup was a good one on all accounts.
And the final five:
20210509 HSF Salamanca (NY) 6, PORTVILLE (NY) 0, Portville Field, Portville, NY*
20210515 HSF BUFFALO MARITIME/HEALTH SCIENCES (NY) 26, Elma Iroquois (NY) 20 (2OT), Johnnie B. Wiley Stadium, Buffalo, NY** (S6-B)
20210604 HSF BROOKLYN ABRAHAM LINCOLN (NY) 46, Brooklyn James Madison (NY) 30, Lincoln Field, Brooklyn, NY
20210605 HSF STATEN ISLAND NEW DORP (NY) 30, Staten Island Susan Wagner (NY) 28 (OT), Staten Island Advance Stadium, Staten Island, NY
20210612 HSF STATEN ISLAND NEW DORP (NY) 24, Staten Island Port Richmond (NY) 16, Staten Island Advance Stadium, Staten Island, NY
Portville v. Salamanca
After two games in Salamanca saw snow, I thought, certainly, I wasn’t going to see snow again. And to be safe, I went to a road game. But, the snow followed me anyways. Salamanca was a fun team to follow this season. And a fluke Sunday evening game on Mothers’ Day was quite memorable. A miserably cold and wet snow. The field conditions were slop, at best. And neither team could really find their footing. But the photos were great. I gave up using the umbrella and resigned myself to be soaked by the snow. The game itself was remarkable. With neither team scoring until late in the game Salamanca scored a short TD run by their QB to win, 6-0 in the sectional semifinal.
Maritime/Health Sciences v. Iroquois
I had thought this was the last game of my 2020 season. And it ended in the most spectacular of fashions. 20-20. Going to overtime. The season that never seemed to end just wouldn’t end. And my 127th game of the year, tying my all-time maximum for a season back in 2014. Played at Johnnie B. Wiley Stadium, it was a beautiful afternoon for football. I had strained my back the day before. So, after the Franklinville/Ellicottville v. Salamanca game, I didn’t want to do too much walking around on the sideline. And it was scoreless for quite a spell. In OT, I got one of my favorite photos just by being lucky. Right in the scrum of players celebrating MHS’s championship winning TD run. But, it wasn’t the end of the 20-20 season.
Abraham Lincoln v. James Madison
I’m not sure why, exactly, I thought to look at the New York schedule on Maxpreps. I was fairly certain that all of the sections had wrapped up their season the weekend that Section 6 had finished. But, I thought maybe there was a cancellation or postponement. Plus, I did want to just see how the rest of the state had finished.
And that’s when I saw one game listed. Tottenville had a home game. I looked them up. They were a PSAL school. PSAL being the New York City public school league. They’re on Long Island and I was certain it was some type of 7-on-7 game, or something. But, no. It was actually a regular season football game.
Under the radar, the PSAL had thrown together a short regular season of games. Not every school participated. And almost every game was on Saturday afternoon. It was too late for that weekend to make plans. But, the first week of June was available. And there was a Friday game. Which would allow me two, if possible. So, I checked, and sure enough, I could cover their game. And I was going to cover Tottenville the next day, but had instead contacted New Dorp instead.
I made the long drive in for a Friday afternoon game. Including having a flat tire near Lamar, Pennsylvania. I arrived in Brooklyn about an hour before kickoff and the storm I had just driven through had approached. The game was delayed, and there was serious consideration that the game would be cancelled if it couldn’t start by 6pm. And with the 30-minute lightning countdown, the game was planned to restart right before 6. Everything about this game is memorable. The players were excited I was there. One of the funnest group of players to photograph, too. I got untold number of great photos. The towers to the south made for a spectacular backdrop. The rain that had soaked everything seemed a distant memory when they game started. Though muggy, it was a great afternoon on the turf at Lincoln Field.
New Dorp v. Susan Wagner
I wasn’t sure what to expect traveling to Staten Island the next afternoon. It was a nice drive in and I followed along the shoreline. It was hot. My car’s AC had gone out. Probaby for the last time. So, a game in the 90s wasn’t really looking to be that great. But the game itself was perfect.
New Dorp fell behind by two scores before a late second quarter TD halved the lead. Then tied it. The two traded scores, and the game went to overtime, 22-22. New Dorp would score first, and get the two-point try. Susan Wagner would score, but would be stuffed on the conversion. It was a long drive home with no AC in that heat. But I enjoyed my trip to New York immensely.
And I thought it was over. But, I didn’t want to give up that easily. There were a few weeks left. I wouldn’t be able to go back each weekend. But, I decided to have one more weekend in New York.
New Dorp v. Port Richmond
There was a Thursday afternoon game to go along with another Abraham Lincoln game on Friday afternoon. I had planned to see a Bronx or Queens game on Saturday. Something different, I thought. But, nobody, and I mean nobody, would either answer an email or phone call. Some games were cancelled. But, for some there just was no response. And some of the phone systems some schools used made getting ahold of anyone exceedingly difficult.
So, it was Friday afternoon that I had accepted my Bronx games weren’t going to happen. So, I contacted New Dorp again about covering their game. They were very much in favor of that, and not wanting to string them along, told them to put me on the list for their game against Port Richmond.
It seems my reputation had exceeded my perception. It was interesting finishing the year on two-straight games that I had seen just the week prior. Abraham Lincoln and then New Dorp. And it was strange returning to a stadium I had just been at. So few repeating games outside of playoff contests at the same stadium.
But, I was actually shocked at how many people had both seen my photos and article from the week before and commented to me prior to the game on the field. At least, when it comes to PSAL football, the Staten Island schools do have their own local paper for coverage. But, more coverage is still more coverage. And I was happy with my decision to return to New Dorp.
The game itself moved along quite a bit like their game against Susan Wagner. Two scores by the visitors, while a late first half TD would halve the lead. Two touchdowns in the second half would give New Dorp the lead for good. Eschewing any thoughts of another overtime contest extending my season.
I did talk to Port Richmond’s coach online after the game. And though I didn’t meet him at the game, I am planning for some future point for another New York weekend. And hope to cover a game at Port Richmond’s yet to be completed sports complex on the island’s north side.
This was certainly a year unlike any other. With the lack of scheduled multi-game events to easily attend, made the fall portion of the schedule simple. And not too expensive. Besides the initial starting point of being out west. That was, to an extent, work related. So, costs in general were manageable.
Enjoying time in the upper plains, made it easy to attend some games when other parts of the country hadn’t yet opened up to high school athletics. Montana and North Dakota both hosted many games. And some on strange days.
The primary cost in the falls was travel to local games. And mostly that was mostly food. Covering games for PA Football News, means that most games are no admission. Though I do usually buy a souvenir. The 2020 season saw very few games even offer programs. Let alone anything else. I bought my daughter a shirt at Heart River, Alexander and the South Dakota finals. I also bought a game program at Chartiers Valley, most notably. There wasn’t many available this season.
As for other costs, hotels didn’t become an issue until the playoffs. And only if they were non-work related. I did travel with my friend Dave for the games in Mississippi. So, we split costs on that excursion. I did make several long drives to Columbus and Clinton-Massie for games on Thursday or Monday nights.
Gas costs alone, though, were relatively modest since I do have one fringe benefit. As long as I’m local, I don’t pay for gas. It’s just when I venture about 200-300 miles away that it becomes a budgetary issue.
My trip to South Dakota included a very cheap hotel in North Sioux City, South Dakota. And I slept in my car on the way there and back. It was on that trip that my car’s heating finally had enough. Following the loss of my A/C earlier in the fall. It’s an older car, but it still got me everywhere I wanted to go this year. I drove to Texas in mid-December. And turned around a week later and was back for work. In Midland. Which put me close enough to DFW to do games on Boxing Day. And then two days of games on January 1st and 2nd. A title game in San Angelo on the 5th. And the 5A and 6A titles once again back at Jerry World a week later.
The spring, though, was where costs increased. For the first several weeks, the only games to attend were in Virginia and Philadelphia. Which were not short trips. But, luckily, I carpooled with my friend for the first trip to Virginia. We split the hotel costs. For the second week, he hadn’t planned on making the trip initially, so I drove myself down to Norton. While he eventually was able to leave and make the game on time. We then convoyed our way to Hurley for the Saturday afternoon game.
The next week, Philadelphia games had started but many of them were cancelled. Turned into scrimmages for the City League. So, we did two games in Maryland on Friday night and Saturday afternoon. Before driving to southeast PA for a Saturday night game. Our hotel was covered via PAFN, but we did drive separately.
After that, it was a weekly drive from home to Philadelphia. Gas and hotel were covered. Admission to the games was free. So, the only cost was food. Of which, occasionally, dinner on Saturday was covered by PAFN. This made the weekends fairly cheap.
And then New York. Much closer. A much easier drive, but meant that the 4th game of weekend was usually the Thursday night game. Though a sectional semifinal weekend had four games on four different days. As Portville’s home game against Salamanca was scheduled for Sunday evening. In the snow. So, though travel was shorter, the hotel costs increased. And were out of pocket on my end.
With the season apparently over, I didn’t anticipate the two additional weekend trips to New York City. It was incredibly hot and driving a car without AC was a bit of a trial. But, one that I was willing to take on. Even if it was 97F at one point. Windows down at 70MPH is still tolerable.
Hotels and gas were the notable cost. As well as tolls. The NYC area tolls added up fast. The Holland Tunnel, Battery Tunnel, Verrazzanno Bridge, Goethals, and Outerbridge were all a major dent in expenditures. But, for the novelty and intrigue of going to New York City games made it worth while financially.
One thing I did add, this season, was Arkansas, to my list of states. After the Friday slate of state championships at AT&T Stadium, there was games at Globe Life Park on Saturday. In fact, looking back, Texas Redzone Report, who I’m affiliated with when covering Texas games, should’ve just covered those games instead of the cost and hassle of getting into the smaller school state finals at AT&T Stadium. But, on Friday night and early Saturday morning, I drove straight from Arlington to Little Rock. In the rain, I attended as a fan, at War Memorial Stadium, an Arkansas state final between Rivercrest and Shiloh Christian. It was my first game in Arkansas. And with the lack of Thursday and Saturday games, probably my last. As if I’m anywhere, it’s going to be somewhere I can see more than one game in a weekend.
Over the 132 games I attended, I only purchased tickets for the South Dakota State Finals, Mississippi State Finals, a single Arkansas State Final, and 11 of the 12 Texas State Finals. Of those, I only attended 6 of the 7 South Dakota games. Deciding to cut my time short after the first game on Saturday so I could make the 943 mile drive home in time to watch the Browns game on TV at home the following day at 1pm. I arrived at 12:54.
The rest of the games were on the sideline for PA Football News.
Overall, for the 2020 season, I attended games on 37 different weekends from August 13 to June 12. Aside from the gap between mid January and the end of February, I also missed games during Week 17 of the fall segment and Week S12 of the spring docket. The first being my return to Texas was not going to be immediate after being there for the state finals. And in the Spring, it was because I just didn’t know there was games until the day of the games being played. But did make abbreviated plans for the following Week S13. And added another weekend when that one went smoothly. Blown tire and all.
For total cost, I spent $6153.50 attending the 132 games. Of that, $429.62 was spent on Tickets and Miscellaneous; $1156.08 for gas and transportation fees (tolls, the rare Uber, etc); $3277.61 on food; $1028.41 on hotels; and $261.78 on otherwise uncategorizable expenses labeled Miscellaneous.
Now, Tickets and Miscellaneous are game related expenses. Miscellaneous, on its own, is expenses related to any trips I’ve taken. The one expense I didn’t include was the aforementioned blown tire. Car maintenance just isn’t part of the consideration. These are for things such as clothes, rain jackets, supplies for the road like car chargers, USB cords, etc. A lot of the hotel cost is unseen, however, as PAFN either paid for it directly or was directly reimbursed. I’m only counting hotels where I paid for myself, or as a share of the cost, without a specific earmark reimbursement for it.
Food tends to average about $40 a day when I’m out. A little less when I’m returning home each day. Some expensive meals were Fogo de Chao, VB Steakhouse, and any other steakhouse I could find along the way.
For the season, I drove 26,153 miles in four different vehicles. Mostly in my trusty 2003 Buick Regal. And it’s really showing its age at this point. The interior lights don’t work, the heat and A/C both quit working this season (the fan works great, however), it has a leaking head gasket that started this season, and this spring the odometer quit. So, mileages for the latter half of the spring season were all Google Map calculations on pinpoint directions of travel. And, I feel are very accurate. I do plan on getting a new vehicle this fall,… possibly. But, I also don’t really let a car go until it’s on a hook to a junk yard. I get my money’s worth out of my vehicles. It is my third Buick Regal (previously had a 97 and 01), of which the former ate a deer (but still drove for an entire year and a half after but looked like something out of Mad Max), and the second hydrolocked. It was repaired, but it suffered catastrophic failure in less than a year. So, that led me to my latest Regal. Which I’ve put about 100,000 miles on in the four years I’ve owned it.
Overall, I drove an average of 198.1 miles for each game of the 2020 football season. I spent an average of $46.62 per game to attend all 132 games this season.
This was a strange season and split into two sections. In the fall, I did two things. First was go where there were games out west while working, before returning to Ohio and Pennsylvania for the rest of the regular season.
For the playoffs, which were a bit convoluted, there wasn’t much in the way of multi-game events. I did spend one weekend in Colorado and Kansas for two games. And the following week spent back in South Dakota when I found out that their 7 state championships were going to be played with tickets available to the general public.
As the fall season ended, I did a weekend trip to Mississippi with my friend Dave, and then the state titles in Hershey. Those games had limited fans and restrictions on media were fairly severe. So, for PA Football News it was just Billy Splain and myself as the photographer attending.
After that, it was Texas. Taking one weekend off, I was thinking I would make just one trip to Texas for the 1A-4A state titles in Arlington. The games were limited attendance, but were still one ticket for the whole day. The Balmorhea-Richland Springs game was postponed, which meant only a doubleheader for Wednesday. On that Saturday, I stopped in Little Rock on the way home.
Then, it was back to Texas for four more weeks of football. An undertaking only accomplished because work took me to West and Central Texas. And a trip to Arlington was not that difficult to accommodate on the weekends.
The fall season ended in mid-January with the four UIL state finals for Class 5A and 6A. The games were staggered with one game early and one game late. With two tickets required per day. This did leave open the middle of the day for food away from the stadium.
In the Spring, the season started with Virginia for two weekends, and then transitioned to Southeastern Pennsylvania. When New York started football in April, my attention was split until PA finished and New York continued into May. And then, after a week with no games, two more weekends in New York City completed the epic 2020 season.
For travel, it was mostly in hotels. Some work related, some not. I did travel long distances, such as from South Dakota to home, where I stopped for just a few hour nap in Northwestern Ohio before arriving home. The other time I slept in my car was a few of the return trips from Philadelphia where I had no intention of getting a hotel. If there was a place to stop, I’d take a few hour nap before driving the rest of the way.
For Philadelphia, the hotel was covered by PAFN, and the hotel to Mississippi, Virginia, and overnight trips to New York were mostly split or discounted. Renting a ton of hotel rooms a year gives a lot of discounts and freebies. Currently a Gold Member for Hotels.com until next October already.
NOTES and THOUGHTS
What can I say? I can’t believe the season even happened. And when it was all said and done I had once again attended at least 100 games. And beat my former record with 132. But not everything went as planned. In fact, most of the time there was no plan. Games were scheduled and cancelled with such regularity, that I just went with whatever was happening.
I managed to avoid having a game cancel without a backup. Though there were a few close calls. Usually, it was finding new games scheduled for odd dates or times and whether they’d work with my schedule.
In the early going, Pennsylvania was difficult to crack. The strict 250 person stadium limit made media coverage difficult. Even if media was allowed, it might just be one person per outlet. Which meant a lot of times I had to report as well as document updates and photograph the game. And I made it a point to do the best I could given just how few people could actually see the games.
The schools that restricted fan attendance to zero were the easiest to cover. Since they had the highest number of open slots in the 250. Ohio, with the 15% limitation, was a fail-safe as they had no restrictions on media. Several Thursday games in Ohio, including two around Columbus, and two Saturdays spent in Ohio worked well when Pennsylvania had a lack of available spots.
But, as the season chugged along, I wasn’t expecting a huge number of games. And was always anticipating a lac of playoffs or title games. Similar to what befell West Virginia. Whose cancellations took out their Super Six weekend.
So, I just wanted to take it all in. Try to mark off my bucket list wherever I could. A game in Beach, North Dakota. Seeing Bowman County again. Games in Eads (CO) and St. Francis (KS). Making a last ditch effort for New York City. Including Abraham Lincoln, which was, weirdly, one of my sought after New York City games and it all happened in June of a pandemic-delayed season.
I added 133 new teams to my total. And 82 new stadiums. I saw 235 different teams in 93 different stadiums. In 15 different states. Arkansas as my newest state to my list. Leaving me 12 states left to see high school football games in. And both on the coasts. Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Rhode Island, and Connecticut to the northeast. While Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Nevada, and Arizona to the west. Along with Alaska and Hawaii. Which are long off bucket list locales.
Of the new teams I’ve seen this year, I have to say my favorite was Beach. A game in Beach was a long time bucket list location. And though I had lofty standards, I did really get behind the team and greatly enjoyed my time near the border with Montana.
I’m now up to 1,297 different teams. 416 different stadiums. In 1,170 all-time games. Of those, 1,015 were in the past ten seasons. An average of 101.5 per season. In 2014, I attended 127 games. In the past seven years, I’ve attended 742 games. A blistering pace of 106 games per season.
For my favorite new stadiums, I’d go–in chronological order–with:
Buccaneer Field, Beach, North Dakota
A great field on a prairie with a gorgeous vista of buttes to the east.
FirstEnergy Stadium, Cleveland, Ohio
Been here many times. Been on the field once before. But first time to shoot a game. Great time in my 4th NFL stadium photographing a game.
Leo Buffone Field, Steubenville, Ohio
This place is just phenomenal and I really hope Steubenville Catholic Central plays more home games here. I know this was a Covid oddity. But it has character.
Portage Area Stadium, Portage, Pennsylvania
Old block stadium. Lockerrooms exit from the 50 from below the stands.
Greene Field, St. Francis, Kansas
The concrete visitor side with the field painting and just being a small little stadium out in the endless prairie of northwestern Kansas.
Smiley Ratliff Field, Hurley, Virginia
What else can you say about The Cliff? The backdrop to the field is stunning. An afternoon game. With the ice hanging down the sides? I can’t imagine this place looking better.
Frankford Stadium, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
One of the gorgeous old stadiums of Pennsylvania. A true ‘track and field’ venue, with the extremely wide, squat field with the track cutting the corners. Entirely enclosed with walls with the lockers to the northern corners and old restrooms to the southern corners.
Pollock Field, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Though the school is no longer there, the building remains. And the field sits kitty-corner across the intersection in a bustling part of West Philadelphia. The large apartment building behind the home stands provides a stark visual.
Veterans Memorial Park, Salamanca, New York
Completely refurbished with turf, lights, scoreboard, etc. A perfect update to an old fashioned football/baseball hybrid stadium. No visitor sides as the outfield wall of the baseball field encroaches into the sideline territory of the visitor bench area. Would love to see it without snow at some point.
Lincoln Field, Brooklyn, New York
If anyone says High School Football in New York City isn’t big, Lincoln Field’s colossus skyline settles it. A great football/baseball dual use field that sits behind what would be, in any other setting, the marque visual. Instead, it’s the massive apartment towers along its southern endzone.
TRAVEL & FOOD
With Covid running rampant through the fall, it was tough to really explore food options around the games I attended. Most of the time it was McDonalds. Or takeout from Texas Roadhouse, Longhorn, or even Outback. But, during the spring, options got a little more of a chance to shine. So, I’ll go roughly chronologically.
The Big Texan, Amarillo, Texas
This is a must stop whenever I am nearby. The pile of breaded mushrooms is expensive, but they make them in such a way they’re not like little lava bombs from hot liquid drenching you.
And the steak? I’ve had probably every cut of steak they sell besides the tips, chop steak, and probably the filet. Their ribeye is great. But so is their large sirloin. They’re cut incredibly thick. And you can ask them to butterfly it for you.
Got to stop here again before the Aspermont game in Week 2.
Scoops, Culbertson, Montana
The Wild West Diner next door was closed. However, Scoops, a place more known for their ice cream and shakes had burgers. And one of the best burgers I’ve head. The bacon was quarter inch thick, after it was cooked. The cheese, though was a very soft processed cheese. But, together with the toasted bun was well worth the exorbitant $13 price tag.
HuHot, Ames, Iowa (and others)
HuHot is one of my favorite places. It’s all-you-can-eat Mongolian Grill. Pick what you want, and they fire it up in front of you. You can really customize your options. My favorite is making beef with noodles, and the spiciest sauces they have. Or the fish with lemon and rice. You really can’t go wrong since you’re picking your poison.
Pizza Ranch, Vermillion, South Dakota (and others)
Most notably stopped across the street from the DakotaDome, this new Pizza Ranch is located in the Prairie Inn hotel that I had stayed at the last time I saw the South Dakota state title games in Vermillion. It’s all-you-can-eat for a very cheap price. Doesn’t have real sweet tea. But the Buffalo Chicken Pizza and fried chicken are both well worth the stop. And they’ll custom make a pizza request if it’s not on the buffet.
Punjabi Dhaba, Alvord, Texas
I stumbled upon this place along US287 between Wichita Falls and Fort Worth. It’s a true Dhaba. Or roadside cafe. A very busy stretch of road. But the food is phenomenal. I’ve stopped back again and they’re slowly improving the building. From cooking outside on a large grill, they’re now inside a slowly improving dining area. The Chicken Korma and Chicken Curry were both great.
Heidi’s, Moorcroft, Wyoming
Though this wasn’t during/after a trip for a game. It was in the middle of the season. I was at the Moorcroft game in 2019, and found this little place in the travel plaza across the street from the school. They specialize in “Brooklyn Style” sandwiches. One of which is the Cajun Crab Cake Sandwich. This thing was melt in your mouth perfection. Their pastrami and roast beef sandwiches are also good. And I did try the Turkey once but wasn’t impressed. They’re elsewhere around the country. But this is the only one I stumbled upon.
Port of Subs, various
I’m just throwing this one out there. Located mostly in Nevada, Port of Subs is a GREAT sandwich. Their large is also two feet long. Their medium is a foot long. Order accordingly. The pastrami with mustard or the turkey are good options. Nothing too spectacular in options. Various deli meats and cheeses. But you get a lot for your money.
Star Point Trading Post, Imlay, Nevada
Well, this was probably the best Prime Rib Sandwich I’ve ever had. And I had it three times while hanging out in the middle of Nevada. The horseradish sauce is perfect on this and the curly fries. Pricy, yes. But a great meal.
This Is Wings & Seafood, Pikeville, Maryland
This place does not mess around. What are they? Wings. And Seafood. A small hole in the wall that was absurdly busy after leaving the Catonsville game for a hotel in Pikesville for their Saturday noon kickoff. The Loaded Fries come with either cajun shrimp, steak, or both. I chose both. And chose right. It’s about half fries, and half meat and cheese. The seasoning is perfect. The steam from everything forms a pasty mashed mess as you eat. And the flavor is hard to beat. You’ll run out of fries before you run out of steak or shrimp. And this entire to-go box filled to the brim was only $13.99. I stupidly bought wings as well. Thinking an order of loaded fries could not be a meal unto itself. I was so wrong.
Fogo de Chao, King of Prussia, Pennsylvania
A Brazillian Steakhouse is hard to pass up. Texas de Brazil has two locations around Cleveland. The one in Woodmere is my usual go to after Browns games. However, Fogo de Chao has ribeye. But no lamb chops. It’s a sacrifice I was willing to make. I’d say Fogo had better steak overall. But the ribeye. This was steak nirvana.
Belle-View East, Falconer, New York
My first weekend in New York this spring included a stop in Falconer for a hotel. And while waiting for the Friday night game at Jamestown, I stumbled upon Belle-View East and their Beef on Weck. I had wings as well which weren’t nearly as good. The dinner menu looked every better. But, don’t be fooled. The sandwich was incredibly juicy.
Davidson’s, Jamestown, New York
After the CSP game in Panama, we headed to Southwestern for a Saturday night game. But stopped near the Chautauqua Lake Mall for a meal at a very busy Davidson’s and I had the fish (not pictured). It was well worth the stop.
Scoogi’s Classic Italian, Flourtown, Pennsylvania
We stopped here twice. The first time, I had the prime rib ravioli. The second time, was the 14oz lamb chop. Now, I love a good lamb chop. But I don’t think I’ve ever had a 14oz one. And this was well worth whatever PAFN paid for it.
Peg’s Place, Athol Springs, New York
Great food and beautiful waitresses. Simple fare. The German potato salad is chunked potatoes with bacon pieces in it. The patty melt was cheap and perfect. Not burnt. Not soggy.
Louie’s Texas Red Hots, Orchard Park, New York
Whenever I’m near Ralph Wilson/New Era/Bills/Highmark Stadium, I make it a point to get breakfast or a dinner snack at Louie’s. There’s more than one location. But this is the only one I have stopped at. The chili dogs are worth the stop on their own. But their breakfast omeletes are great. Though the cheese is questionable, the potatoes and eggs aren’t. Also, an order of Souvlaki to go with the mushroom omelet is a great addition.
Demetri’s, Dunkirk, New York
Another surprise find. We were running late to Dunkirk for the Silver Creek/Forestville v. Maple Grove game. So, aside from fast food off the exit, this was our only hope to be in and out. They had a ‘two meals for $25’ option that included appetizer (pizza logs), meal, and I believe desert or drink. However, the meal I had was Greek chicken. Souvlaki chicken, spinach, and crumbled feta cheese. Along with potatoes. And they were incredibly fast. So, we got to the stadium with plenty of time.
Phil & Cindy’s Lunch, Falconer, New York
Such a great place, we ate there twice. Breakfast hole-in-the-wall in a small shopping plaza. The only thing is their eggs are a bit on the soft side. But the prices, bacon, sausage and potatoes make up for any issues. Also, the breakfast steak is cheap and much better than expected.
Library Bar & Grill, Corry, Pennsylvania
Located in the old library, it’s a great aesthetic. However, they didn’t serve breakfast. The burger was great. And the sweet potato fries were on point.
Dutch Village Restaurant, Clymer, New York
My second game in Clymer had no night game. So, I made my way across the street from the school to the much acclaimed restaurant. Having had the Cowboy Burger earlier in Corry, I stuck to a salad and an appetizer. Far enough from Pittsburgh, a salad with french fries is called a “Pittsburgh Salad” and had the right fry to steak to lettuce ratio.
The Bat Mush was good.
Randy’s Fireside, Portville, New York
The next day was a trip east to Portville for a Sunday night playoff contest between Salamanca and Portville in Class D. Also, it was Mother’s Day. So, I stopped in at Randy’s for prime rib and salt potatoes. I wasn’t quite sure what salt potatoes were. But, it is basically boiled potatoes in butter with salt added. Not cut up or mashed. The prime rib though was the item to try. Also had the bruschetta as an appetizer with the meal. And strawberry cake. All included for the Mother’s Day rate as their regular menu was unavailable. Though one guy a table over whined about not getting cheese sticks, so the waitress got the kitchen to deep fry him some cheese sticks while he was out with, presumably, the mother of his children.
Uncle Joe’s Diner, Hamburg, New York
Last weekend in Buffalo. And presumably the last of the season. A morning stop at Uncle Joe’s (I wrote just Joe’s Diner), is an old 50s style diner that had a normal assortment of breakfast options. But also a few interesting offerings. Suhc as the Sriracha Steak and Eggs. Much better than I anticipated. The siracha isn’t that hot (by my scale as you’ll see below), but it tasted great and the steak was so soft it pulled apart. Mixing everything up with the egg and pile of potatoes they sat on was a great breakfast.
My last weekend in New York City included some free time after the Fort Hamilton game and a meandering drive through Manhattan to my hotel in New Jersey. So, I found myself on Houston St and stopped at one of the famous sandwich shops in the area. The place was busy with a well orchestrated ordering line. I got the Pastrami and mustard. And a piece of cheesecake. The sandwich was $25. It was worth the $25. Well worth it. In contemplated getting a second but realized I had no way to eat it all. The first had done its job. But still. If you’re in the area. It’s worth the stop. Maybe not to go out of the way for. But if you’re in Manhattan it’s worth making your way up the east side to Katz’s.
Bravo Pizza, Staten Island, New York
I was directed here by the New Dorp faithful on the sideline after my first game. But the temperature was so unbearable I couldn’t have imagined eating anything hot. I just wanted to get home. However, the second weekend was much more temperate and I made a point to stop here. And I’m glad I did. I over-ordered with three slices of pizza. With a drink that came out to $17. However, one slice is the gargantuan Stuffed Meat Pizza. At nearly 2 inches thick, it was like two pizzas with a layer of cheese between them. Along with peppers. And loaded with bacon and pepperoni. This was a meal unto itself. The Ceasar Salad Pizza was also good. Made to recreate a bread bowl salad as a pizza slice. But, I had too much and called it a day halfway through the third slice of pizza.
First time ever stopping at a Schlotzky’s. The large sandwich is the size of a small pizza. It’s good. But I don’t know if I’m dumb enough to order one again. But I might.
This is a must stop in Texas for me. A double with cheese, mustard, and onions. Fries with spicy ketchup. And a sweet tea. I just learned you can exchange the bun for Texas Toast at no cost. And I’m reevaluating my previous life choices.
Carolina Reaper Beef Brisket Jerky (Gas Station Find)
Found this while in Mississippi once. Had to try it. I’m a huge fan of heat. I’m not content unless my food is fighting back. These weren’t that hot. It was more of a slow burn that just lasted much longer than normal. But not the excruciating painful heat I was expecting. Quite tasty though.
There’s so much about this year that just can’t be summed up in the recaps above. So, here’s my five facets of 2020 that need some light on them.
You can’t begin to discuss this year without talking about Covid. It is the 800 pound gorilla in the room and it is not going to be ignored. It wasn’t just dealing with the health protocols in place, the restrictions on gatherings, etc. Sometimes, it was the little things. Like not getting straws at a fast food restaurant because they ran out. That toilet paper was worth its weight in gold at one point.
But what will most be remembered is the games without fans. And the games with very few fans. I’ve been to games with not a lot of spectators. But not like some of these games I attended this season. There’s an eerie lack of activity. Some had PAs, some didn’t. Some had bands. Most didn’t. Some had noises and cheers from afar from the crowd watching beyond a fence.
The first game without fans, was Ellwood City hosting Mohawk. A Friday night on the first weekend of Pennsylvania football in 2020. And it never got normal. Even games with limited fans just felt strange. The roar of the crowd that was usually behind me just wasn’t there. And even as the spring rolled around and some restrictions were relaxed, they weren’t removed.
I spent a lot of time in Texas this season. For anyone that loves high school football, that is not a bad thing. It started with the week I had planned to attend the Jayton Kickoff Classic. However, that was cancelled and the individual games were relocated to the host sites of the schools playing. So, on a Thursday in the sweltering 100-plus heat, I was in Aspermont for the first game of the Texas season.
I didn’t return until the first part of the Texas State Finals at AT&T Stadium. A weird mix of games with limited fan support due to Covid, beside the restrictions. Not many games saw an actual full, though limited, crowd. By shear luck, I was back for another set of games on Boxing Day. And then three more weekends.
Getting to photograph the games at Globe Life Park was a highlight of the season. Nine total games I paced the sidelines. And, what’s funny, was I saw an XFL game there back in February before Covid reared its ugly spiked protein.
Personally, I just love Texas. I may not see everything eye to eye with the people, but it’s an experience I think that better helps you understand Texas to actually go there. West Texas, particularly. The distances are vast and it’s an endless panorama.
I’ve been to every county in Texas now. And been back to many of them again and again. I’ve crisscrossed the state to see all it had. From the lower Rio Grande, to the Palo Duro Canyons of the panhandle, to DFW and Houston, to Laredo and El Paso, to Texarkana, Navasota, Lampasas, and always finding my way to Amarillo or Lubbock.
I’m not saying it’s for everyone. But, seeing the country really gives you an understanding of why things are what they are and why people think the way they think. And, to me, we’re not nearly as different as people think we are.
And when the 2021 season winds to a hopefully mundane close, I’ll be at the shrine to football in Texas. Watching the curtain close on another season.
#3 Out West
With Covid, I was glad to get some more games out west. Two games in Utah, two in Montana, three in North Dakota, one each in Colorado and Kansas, and the six state title games in South Dakota.
It’s an area of the country I love to be in. There’s a solitude about it I enjoy. Little clusters of people dotting the landscape of mostly grasses, grains, and barren ground.
I get that the hustle and bustle of a big city might be the only type of living for some people. And I’m not immune to enjoying that. But, there’s something about the quiet solitude of being in the middle of !@#$ing nowhere.
Like the top of a mountain pass in Colorado. Maybe cheating a bit as that was my drive out to Utah. But, never can I say no to a good photo opportunity.
My trip out to Colorado and Kansas might have been my most bizarre, but surprisingly coordinated trip. I went to Denver, but wanted to mark off two well known bucket list teams for me. Along US287 from Limon, Colorado to the Oklahoma border, there’s seven high schools. Limon, Genoa-Hugo, Kit Carson, Eads, Wiley, Lamar, and Springfield. And I’ve now been to six of them. Only needing Genoa-Hugo to cap off that little bucket list item.
And with the rare Kansas Saturday afternoon game, I managed to get St. Francis. And then hightail it home.
I had planned to return to Iowa the following weekend. But, with covid, things happen. So, instead, I drove all the way to Vermillion, South Dakota for the very next weekend. Might have been wiser just to stay out in the midwest for the week. But, I didn’t know. If Iowa had panned out, I would’ve gone with my friend. But, either way. It was a weirdly memorable and fun week tied into work.
#4 New York City
Getting a little personal, there’s one thing I alway struggle with. And that’s imposter syndrome. It’s the lingering feeling like you’re not really as good at something as you think you are. And you’re just waiting to be found out.
Coincidentally, that gets exacerbated when, for instance, being with PA Football News covering a game in New York City. Now, certainly, I’m there because I want to be there. PA Football News has given me an outlet for my interest in high school football and essentially free reign to go wherever I want. Or am wanted, particularly this past year.
So, I like to just be on the sideline and do my thing. But you’re going to talk to someone. And though I’ve seen over a 1000 games in ten years, walked the sideline for hundreds in just the past three years. Have had photos in newspapers. I might be the most hands-on fount of information from first hand knowledge of high school football across the country with actual experience doing it. And yet I’ll feel like I have no clue what I’m talking about.
But then, things like New York City happens. Not only did I get one great weekend covering two games at two wonderful venues for two awesome schools. I got to go back again the very next week. And see those schools again. Those teams again. Talk to those coaches or officials again. And I’m not trying to portray myself as some type of white knight, but they were openly impressed with what I had done the previous week. Fans and parents talked to me. Team coaches, officials, principals, ADs, Superintendents…
Yeah, I’m there because I want to be there. I want to see a football game. But, while I’m there I’m going to give it the coverage, photography, and reporting that it deserves. As best a one-man show can do.
Maybe it is because I am rarely back in the same place twice. That I don’t feel ‘special’ doing what I do. Under covid, I know many fans would clamor at the prospect of seeing even a handful of games while they were blacklisted from their own teams’ stadium because of no longer being a parent or other stringent restrictions. And yet, there I was, for 132 games. Almost all of them on the sideline. Only 22 were in the stands.
I’m highly OCD. If I were ever diagnosed with it as a kid. Growing up, I just was weird. I made lists. Things had to be an exact way. And I just went about my life doing what I do. I learned later that ‘it’s a spectrum’ and I’m definitely on that spectrum. If you’ve met me, my appearance may be a bit unorthodox. That’s because I’m xyraphobic. Though, it’s specifically the fear of razors. It’s more generally the fear of sharp objects. So, I don’t cut my hair, generally, or fingernails. I sometimes will lop off a few inches at a time since there’s a difference between myself handling scissors and someone else handling them around my face.
So, in that light, one thing is I cannot just sit there. So, since my earliest cell phone, I would take notes of the games. And then, with camera phones, take some rudimentary photos. With phones not lasting an entire day at a four-game event, I started using a notebook. And took a real, though cheap, point-and-shoot camera to games.
The breakthrough of Twitter was that I could share my updates with the world. And I’ve always favored my anonymity. And, it snowballed from there. I met Billy Splain, who at the time ran Western PA Football. And when the site morphed into a news site, rather than just an news aggregator, I was offered a spot. No restrictions. I could go to whatever game I wanted.
And I turned him down. I’m not in Pennsylvania enough, I felt, to warrant it. Nor, did I think I had the sophistication for what was needed. I just go to a bunch of games. Players blend from one to another. My threshold for a ‘great game’ or ‘great player’ is probably so ridiculously high for me compared to the average fan. I’ve seen two NFL Draft #1 Overall Picks play high school football. I’ve seen some incredible games. Some breathtaking stadiums. But, I wasn’t a reporter. Who would read what I wrote? Plus, photography was my interest.
So, he asked again. Any game. Anywhere. Not just Pennsylvania. And I just needed to take photos. That was when I finally decided to give it a go. I bought a Canon Rebel t7i and a cheap 75-300mm variable zoom lens.
My first official game on the sideline (I had been on two previously for WPAF as a favor) was Conneaut v. Meadville. And I haven’t looked back.
I upgraded to the 55-250mm lens. And promptly broke it at Heinz Field. I bought another 55-250mm lens. Which wasn’t near as good. The auto-focus would reset after a period of time. Making photographing a challenge.
This year, I finally upgraded to a Tamron 70-200mm F/2.8 lens. A hefty price tag mostly paid for by PA Football News. And then my t7i broke. After 2.5 years of heavy use. The shutter curtain detached. So, I removed it at the Knoch game this year. Missing part of the game in the process. And promptly bought a t8i while my t7i was servicable. Though without the shutter curtain, I had to photograph everything with the LCD display and not the viewfinder. After the t8i failed before the New Brighton game, I returned it and bought a new t8i and have been smart to take both with me the rest of the way.
The t7i acts as my dedicated wide angle camera. And the t8i as the zoom lens for most photos. The t7i still has the broken shutter curtain. And I’ve been meaning to have it sent off to repair. But, in a given weekend, I might only take 1000 photos with it. Hardly enough to concern myself with it just yet. Maybe after the 2021 season and there’s no spring ball I’ll send it off to be repaired.
Prior to covid, I had anticipated buying a new 2.8 wide angle lens for the t7i. But, have put those plans on hold. The time I spent not working my primary occupation meant that spring football was quite a costly endeavor. And another $1400 for a wide angle lens I would rarely use was not really worth it at this time.
In just a few weeks, will be my 4th season on the sideine. Seeing games all over the country. And have a hell of a time doing it.
My daughter is old enough that she’s going to come with me for some games. As my assistant. For those games, I won’t be as present on the sideline as she’s too young to be that close to the field. For those games, my focus will be more on the updates and game recap. And photos can be easily had from the stands.
And though I’ve posted photos from this season throughout this recap, here’s the ones that were special to me this year. Some new ones, and some listed above.
PHOTOS OF THE YEAR
“Touchdown in Texas” – Aspermont, Texas
“Like a Rock” – Plentywood, Montana
“It’s not the size of the dog in the fight,
It’s the size of the fight in the dog.”
– Alexander, North Dakota
“Looking Back” – Mohawk at Ellwood City, Pennsylvania
“There’s So Much Room For Activities” – Penn Hills, Pennsylvania
“In Stride Six” – Southmoreland at Yough, Pennsylvania
“Inception? Interstellar Space Station?” – Steubenville Catholic Central, Ohio
“Football In The Fall” – Bentworth, Pennsylvania
“Football is a game of inches” – Bentworth, Pennsylvania
“And blades of grass” – Baldwin at Seneca Valley, Pennsylvania
“Silos” – Eads, Colorado
“Freight Train” – St. Francis, Kansas
“Putting Your Team On Your Back” – Parkland, Pennsylvania
“How You Play For a Title” – Pine-Richland, Pennsylvania
“Mehki Flowers. Enough Said.” – Steelton-Highspire, Pennsylvania
“Full Scorpion” – Jersey Shore, Pennsylvania
“Tackled by a Fluff Ball” – Shiloh Christian v. Rivercrest, Arkansas
“Overtime. Game. Winning. Catch.” – Cedar Hill, Texas
“Jewel of West Texas” – San Angelo Stadium, Texas
“The Cliff” – Smiley Ratliff Field, Hurley, Virginia
“When you stare into the abyss, the abyss stares into you.” – The Cliff, Hurley, Virginia
“Welcome To The Rock” – The Cliff, Hurley, Virginia
“Raptors Hunt In Packs” – Neumann-Goretti, Pennsylvania
“Rest” – Neumann-Goretti, Pennsylvania
“In West Philadelphia,… ” – West Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
“Mine” – Salamanca, New York
“Let Me See Your War Face” – Clymer/Sherman/Panama, New York
“Not only is this a catch, he ran it in for a touchdown” – Kensington at Roxborough, Pennsylvania
“Bridge. Zebras. Art.” – Chester, Pennsylvania
“No flag?!” – Frankford, Pennsylvania
“Check Please” – Clymer/Sherman/Panama, New York
“Talk To The Hand” – Clymer/Sherman/Panama, New York
“Tackle” Salamanca at Franklinville/Ellicottville, New York
“Warming Up By The Football” – Maritime/Health Sciences v. Iroquois, Buffalo, New York
“Champion” – Maritime/Health Sciences, Buffalo, New York
“Teammates Always Have Your Back” – Abraham Lincoln, Brooklyn, New York
“Football is Football is Football is Football” – Abraham Lincoln, Brooklyn, New York
2021 and Beyond
So, I don’t know what the future holds. But I have a good idea. At the risk of jinxing myself, I’ll be on the sideline somewhere taking photos. Three of my first four weekends are planned.
Unlike the past two years, I plan to open my season in Georgia. Finally covering the Corky Kell Classic in Week 0. The following week i’ll be a stones throw from the Atlantic Ocean in Ocean City, New Jersey for the Battle At The Beach. Week 2 is still up in the air. Meanwhile, Week 3 will be in Muncie, Indiana for the CIC Day at Ball State and Delta v. Yorktown on Friday night. One of the big rivalries in eastern Indiana.
After that, It’s mostly Pennsylvania, Ohio, and New York games. I’m hoping to return to Highmark Stadium (in Orchard Park), and possibly also Highmark Stadium in Pittsburgh for a Central Catholic game. I’m venturing out to Iowa for their state semifinals. And then making a bee line straight to Panama City, Florida for the home school titles. Possibly Indiana and Tennessee state finals. The Pennsylvania finals at Hershey. And close out the season with another trip to Texas.
But, then you never know. Never would’ve thought I’d be in New York City watching games in June. That’s just how life works.
Whatever it is though, I’m sure I’ll have fun.
133 New Teams
82 New Stadiums
1,297 different teams
416 different stadiums
1,170 total games
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