Life is bigger than football

The Presidential election seems like a distant memory by now, yet we all can easily recall the immature, childish, and inappropriate behavior that took place, not for a lack of trying to forget. And yes, despite what your particular party’s talking heads will tell you, it was absolutely both sides of the aisle and everywhere in between.

I hoped, I prayed, I believed, like many of you, that elected officials by the fall of 2017, would have seen the negativity and disgusting behavior of the past year and a half, and done everything they could to prove to their public that this was not the manner in which they want to proceed.

Typically, my task at the Warren Times Observer is to cover sports, mainly football. I am going on my ninth year of covering Sheffield football. I have seen ups, downs, and you’d think just about everything. However, two weeks ago, what I witnessed was a first.

The Wolverines, who have a co-op with Abraxas, were facing off against Allegheny Mountain League (AML) powerhouse, Ridgway, which too has a co-op with neighboring Johnsonburg.

Football is a violent sport. One of hard hits and even harder falls. No one sets out to hurt the other team, but all participants know that it is part of the game. A game where you lower your shoulder and try to run through a defender. The same game where you plant your feet and try to stop what feels like a runaway train in its tracks. When two teams with fight in them such as the Elkers and Wolverines collide, there are bound to be sore bones, aching muscles, and sometimes serious injuries. The irony of this is, despite all the ferocity and danger in the name of winning a football game, all those in attendance Friday saw more about respect and maturity from both teams than we have observing all three of our Warren County Commissioners these past few weeks.

When Ridgway running Joey Elinksi fell to ground after one of many brutal hits in the contest, the stadium fell silent. After sometime and a lot of attention from medical staff, the decision was made to take Elinski off the field in the ambulance, but what couldn’t have been predicted was both teams, players and coaches alike, along with officials all made their way out to middle of the field to surround Elinksi as he was loaded into the back of the ambulance. It was a moment of solidarity and unity, between ‘enemies.’

Moments later, the game continued and with it another huge hit. This time Sheffield’s Kevin Marfink went down after an unintentional helmet to helmet. Again, an ambulance was called. In what was now the second instance of competitive cohesion from the coaches and officials the half was stopped with five minutes left to play.

Following the early half-time, play resumed. As if watching these young kids come together like they did in the first half wasn’t enough, in the fourth quarter, everyone was witness to what can only be described as a beautiful moment in sports.

Late in the game, with Ridgway ahead 52-6, Sheffield head coach Dave Fitch and Ridgway head coach Mark Heindl made the quiet choice to give an Elkers’ athlete who happened to have autism the opportunity to score his first touchdown and make a memory that will last a lifetime.

The coaches discussed the game plan with their players, and all agreed with enthusiasm. As he crossed the goal line the stadium erupted, players from both teams congratulated him, and for a brief moment, this kid was a star. A moment that will last a lifetime.

Following the game, Fitch commented on the play, “Sometimes life is bigger than football.”

That Friday night, I personally witnessed more pride, dignity, companionship, and class than anyone has from our politicians, national and local alike. These kids didn’t do what they did for votes or to gain support from their base. They weren’t showing off for a camera or trying to ruin someone’s career. There was no pandering, and certainly no bigotry. No, Friday night, I saw unselfish kids, in one of the most vicious high school sports, joining together not once, not twice, but three times.

Now originally when writing this, my point was going to stop there. However in light of recent events this weekend, I feel contrived to elaborate on the subject.

I had all but gave up hope, much like politics, of the National Football League and its players ever uniting on anything since September 11, 2001. However, when a completely unnecessary and poorly timed statement was made by our President, we all witnessed players, owners, and the NFL bad guy himself, Roger Goodell, do just what these kids from Sheffield and Ridgway did. They came together. They knew that in a few minutes they would have to become the typical gladiators that we all support, but for a brief moment, to them, life was bigger than football.

In a perfect world, I would somehow be able to get this story to the eyes of our President and all other nationally elected officials that have clouded common sense with headline grabber adolescent babble, but something tells me my reach isn’t that far. So, I say to the readers and all other Americans, don’t always look to the ‘leaders’ for guidance, as sometimes it’s our neighbors, athletes and children that will truly show us the best of humanity.