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No doubt about it – Galax got lucky Friday night.
But then, so did Grayson County.
You could have said that long before a football ball was ever in the air, and it had nothing to do with the final numbers on the scoreboard.
Players from both Grayson County and Galax – and their fans – are incredibly fortunate. Unbelievably lucky. For either of the two teams to be undefeated in November – which has never happened before – and for both to be 9-0 in the same year, which happened to be the first year that the rivalry was scheduled for the final week of the season, well, it rings of pure providence.
How microscopic must be the percentage of high school football players who will ever experience an atmosphere like this past Friday night. More than a game, it was an event, so worthy of attention that it was previewed on the front of The Roanoke Times.
Not the front of the sports section, but smack dab all over page A-1.
It lived up to it, too, with crowds beginning to arrive more than four hours before kickoff, with gas grills burning and canned foods being collected and kids tossing footballs and beanbags and the whole thing ending with a mass of humanity on the 50-yard line, blue and gold mingled with maroon and white mingled with RealTree and Carhartt, all sharing a word of prayer.
My dad coached football at J.I. Burton High School in Norton back in the late ‘60s. One Friday, Burton had a home game the same night that Appalachia was playing at Gate City, which was on the route that the game officials traveled to get to Norton. The J.I. Burton game got started some time around 9 p.m. because the officials couldn’t get through the game traffic in Gate City.
What we experienced Friday is what I imagined that was like. Not the tailgating, and not the meeting in the middle after the game. Just the bigness of it all. High school football is huge at some place every week in the mountains of Southwest Virginia, played before passionate fans in stadiums named for legendary coaches.
Friday night, it was huge at Bill Strong Field.
There are no doubt other high school rivalries in small towns across the country that have to some degree this atmosphere every year. But I don’t know if they could ever be any bigger than this, simply for the fact that it was all so new to us.
The whole thing had been feeding on itself throughout the entire season. Everybody knew Galax was going to be good, but Grayson was the surprise, to those outside the county especially, and probably even to themselves. As the weeks ticked by and the coinciding wins added up, the anticipation of Game 10 continued to grow and grow, and grow some more.
Big crowds don’t happen very often in the Twin Counties, so I wonder what unsuspecting folks driving by in the daylight hours before the game must have thought: Do I need to run home to fix a bowl of tater salad and a covered dish? Wonder who won the dulcimer competition? Crap, the Stomp In hippies are having a 35th-year reunion, and they brung their kids.
I wouldn’t be surprised if three or four folks even got saved Friday.
I’m sure there were friendly wagers on the game between co-workers, neighbors and the like. Did the mayors of the towns involved have a little side bet with one another? Maybe C.M. Mitchell put 50 pounds of pork butt and an old clawhammer banjo in the kitty against a pair of Nautilus dumbbells, some kayak lessons and a mess of hot smallmouth lures from E.F. Reeves and Gary Sumner.
Probably not, but they missed a good opportunity.
Was it fun? Whether your team won or lost, was it all worth it? Dang right, it was. And it can be again, at least to a smaller extent. There are some more big games coming in the weeks ahead, especially if the lofty ratings of the two teams are valid.
That, folks, was what small-town high school football should be, and not just on nights like Nov. 4, 2011.
Holy smokes, what a night.