For one weekend each autumn, dozens of families serve as hosts for the athletes. (The ELFL recently decided to rotate participation in the bowl among the five schools; this year Navy will meet Princeton on Oct. 22.) These encounters often result in lasting friendships. "You usually stay with your hosts two or three years in a row, then after that you're still in contact with them through letters or visits," said Lewis. "For most of the guys on the team, it's like a second family."
For the parents and teachers of Pottsville, the Anthracite Bowl also provides a chance to help children recognize their own potential by introducing them to dozens of likely role models—dedicated athletes from prestigious schools.
Last year's celebration began on Friday, Oct. 22, with a trip by both teams to Good Samaritan Regional Medical Center to visit sick children and judge a hospital-wide decorating contest, followed by a kickoff luncheon and then a short bus ride to the elementary school. There the athletes signed autographs, answered questions and lectured students on the dangers of drugs and alcohol. They also participated in a pep rally featuring, among other things, a rendition of Anchors Aweigh by a fourth-grade Flutophone band.
Nearly 3,000 spectators filled Veteran's Memorial Stadium at Pottsville High on that Saturday as Army avenged the previous year's loss with a 28-3 triumph. Junior quarterback Mikell Harper ran for two touchdowns and passed for another, earning the MVP trophy, which he received that evening at an awards banquet attended by more than 500 residents of Pottsville.
The festivities, as always, came to an end on Sunday, with melancholy farewells and a chorus of come-back-soons. As the buses left Pottsville, a community that had looked forward to a weekend of friendship and football and a handful of players hoping for a warm reception were both contented. Small wonder.