WEIRTON - Many times, my high school friends from Virginia, Huntington, Denver, Morgantown and Seattle to name a few places will exchange e-mails on high school football memories of games we have attended, games we played in or upcoming games.
The best part about this is when we were in high school, we all played against each other in different sports. Now to this day, we still remain friends and keep in touch.
Recently, a friend of mine in Seattle asked me when he would see my "From the Principal?"
This should answer his question ...
I have the opportunity to write this from a unique perspective of high school football in Weirton. Growing up in Weirton, I rooted for Madonna and Weir High to both do well. I still remember the 1987 state title by Madonna, as well as the playoff runs by Weir High in 1984 and 1989. I remember the names of Monte Sommers, Carl Fodor, Keith Jeter, Danny Ricadonna among many others.
(As a side, I remember my neighbor bringing over a notebook piece of paper with all the Madonna football players "signatures" on it. As a kid, I thought it was the greatest thing ever and hung it on my wall. I remember my mother asking, "Why do all the signatures look the same?")
I proudly attended Weir High School. I graduated from Weir High and am proud to be an alumnus of Weir High. I am now currently serving as the principal of Madonna High School and am proud to be part of such a special school as Madonna High School. Both of these schools hold very fond memories for me of high school football on a Friday night (or Saturday afternoon for those who remember the Brooke-Weir games), and it would be unfair for me to not speak from both perspectives.
Oddly, both of my favorite memories came down to a pair of field goals, one missed and one made.
My current job as principal gives me the chance to not only watch our kids play on the athletic field, but get to know them off it. I see students with class and humility walk the halls of Madonna High School each day. It is hard not to root for our kids, and it is hard not to feel bad when they lose.
I am proud of our kids for their accomplishments on the field, but I am more proud of them for their accomplishments off it. Over my three-plus years at Madonna, one game stands out to me in my memories here. While the game was played on a Saturday afternoon, the adventure began the day before when we left for Pocahontas County.
To be able to truly appreciate this drive, one has to have made this drive. As Bill Cosby once said in one of his skits about the hills of San Francisco, you get to the top of the hill and the car keeps on going up. This is similar to the trip of going to Pocahontas County. It is a beautiful drive, but one with lots of twists, turns, narrow roads and hills.
When we got there, the field was frozen.
I tried to call my wife Theresa to let her know we had arrived, but cell phone service was non-existent. When the game began, I think most of us had already lost feeling in our hands and feet. We were bundled up and excited for this game to begin. The game was a back-and-forth battle, and for the first time during that season, Madonna trailed at halftime. I went into the locker room to warm up for a few minutes.
At halftime, I saw kids remaining calm, with no panic on their faces. The coaches were making adjustments and relaying them to the kids. But what stood out to me most was two of the kids stood up and said out loud to the group of athletes before them, "We're fine. We got this. Let's go do what we do."
The second half was a game in which the Blue Dons came out firing, and before long, we had taken the lead with only a few minutes remaining on the clock. As fate would have it, the game came down to a field goal attempt by Pocahontas County to win the game.
Shortly before the drive began, one of the officials smiled at me and said, "Their kicker is the best in the state. You don't hold em', you're in trouble." As I watched them drive down the field, his statement kept ringing in my head. With less than a minute left on the clock, a time out was called to prepare for the potential game-winning field goal.
I happened to be standing next to Sam Licata and we both agreed we wanted to go stand behind the goal posts to see if he makes it or misses it. As the kick went up, I think both of us thought the kick was good, but then began to tail a little more and more. The officials waived their hands - no good.
The Madonna fans celebrated. As the students left the field that day, I think all of them realized they had been involved with something very special. While this group did not win the Class A championship, many of these kids would reach that summit the following year in one of the most impressive seasons of high school football I have ever seen.
It's always fun when your team wins, however it's even more fun when you know the team you are rooting for is filled with fine young men on and off the field.
As for my fondest memory growing up, I remember following what Weir High's football teams were like on a very frequent basis. My dad and I would go to Jimmy Carey Stadium or to other local stadiums (such as Harding Stadium or the old Brooke Stadium in Wellsburg) to see Weir High play against its opponent for the week.
Of all the games Weir High played, though, I always remember the battles with Brooke. As I look back, I always remember two things. As I look back, it always seemed like the biggest deal in the world when Weir would beat Brooke. This was a huge rivalry that both teams got ready for each year. I remember the bon fires and pep rallies each of the cities had where they would "steal" each others signs and throw them in the fires they had made.
As I mentioned above, often my friends and I will exchange e-mails about high school football. One recent exchange was the greatest games we ever saw in person. Two of the games in this great rivalry would be on my "Greatest Games Ever" list. The first was the playoff game in 1994 when No. 15 Weir defeated No. 2 Brooke in overtime. My cousin, Tim, was the quarterback in this game, so it was special to see his team be successful.
The second would be on my list for a number of reasons. The year was 1985 and the setting was old Brooke Stadium in Wellsburg. I remember getting up early for the Saturday afternoon game because we would need to drive to Follansbee to pick up my grandfather and then get to the game, which would surely be sold out. When we got there, I remember the cold and damp weather, filled with a mixture of snow and rain. We sat on the side nearest the river, which made the temperature seem that much colder.
To appreciate this dynamic at the game, you should know my grandfather was a Brooke fan, my dad a Follansbee graduate who lived in Weirton, and myself, a Weir fan through and through. The game was a battle, with both teams going back and forth, and entering the fourth quarter, the game was 0-0.
Maybe it was two good defenses or maybe it was the mud-soaked field, but there was no offense by either team. As the game clock was winding down, Brooke took the ball to the end of the field with the scoreboard and, with under 10 seconds remaining in the game, kicked a game-winning field goal. As a kid, I remember telling my dad and grandfather how Weir High could still run the kickoff back and win the game, but deep down knew I would leave a disappointed fan. While the memory of this game is etched in my mind, the true joy was being there with three generations, myself, my dad and my grandfather.
Unfortunately, it would be the last of these battles we would ever all attend together. The following year, my grandfather died in October, a few weeks before Weir and Brooke would meet on the gridiron again. My dad and I have gone to many sporting events together, and each of them is special in their own way.
I am thankful to have the opportunity to have these fond memories with him, and they are something that is more important to me than the final score of a game or who won and lost.
So thank you Dad for making sure the little kid in the blue and white toboggan always made it to so many games and so many great memories.
(Mihalyo is in his fourth year as principal at Madonna High School).