A good many
parents profess to be horrified at suggestions that Friday nights involve
anything other than a very occasional beer, a lot of Cokes and pizzas and a
little bit of something that is more or less post office. They and the coaches
and the faculty must surely know better, but any acknowledgment of this reality
would upset the unspoken arrangement between adults and adolescents. All this
may be considered deplorable, but for me the tenacious existence of the old
hypocrisy was a source of pleasant nostalgia. If nothing else, Friday night
parties after Friday night games would be far less satisfying and therapeutic
for the participants if the exciting sense of breaking the rules were
morning, before most of the players are up, a number of Vicksburg townsmen
gather for coffee and sweet rolls at Marjo's, the caf� that serves as a male
morning club. The debacle at Hackett is the principal topic of conversation,
and the consensus is that Bruce Martens had not prepared the team adequately,
he had not coached smartly during it; the players had not tried hard enough to
win; they were not as manly as players once were; it was unfair for Vicksburg
to play a Catholic school like Hackett, which recruits big, ugly foreigners
from a wide area; and, in any case. Catholic schools should not be permitted to
play honest public schools.
against Martens escalate sharply the next Saturday after Vicksburg loses
another game, this one to Plainwell. The loss is a kind of mirror image of the
earlier win against South Haven in which Vicksburg beat what seemed to be a
slightly better team. Against Plainwell the Bulldogs appear the stronger squad
and dominate the game for long stretches. But with five minutes to play, the
score is tied, and in overtime Vicksburg fails to score. Plainwell does and
During the week
after the Plainwell game Martens decides a change is needed in his attitude
toward his team. "I'm going to ease off," he says, "make practice
more fun and see what happens. A good part of coaching is adjusting to your
personnel, and maybe I've been at fault in that respect."
But it is not
personnel changes that turn things around for Vicksburg. The Bulldogs' next
opponent is Otsego, and throughout a scoreless first half the Otsegos have a
bit the better of it. Then, midway in the third period an Otsego lineman kicks
Kent Weisenberg, a 6'5", 200-pound junior tackle, who is Vicksburg's
largest player, and Steve Hunt goes wild. He picks up the offending Otsego and
throws him on his back. He and Weisenberg, who has regained his feet, jump on
him, and it takes all the officials and Bruce Martens to separate the three,
who are ejected for the rest of the game. Vicksburg fans are aghast at the loss
of their biggest and best linemen, but their alarm is unfounded. What follows
proves again that while maybe it shouldn't be so, there is nothing like a good
fight to stir up a little enthusiasm.
On the sidelines
Steve Hunt is gripped by an apparently uncontrollable fury. He races up and
down raving, shouting encouragement at his teammates and obscenities at Otsego.
The character of the game changes. Cree and Jensen, who have been bickering
about defensive assignments, put aside their differences and begin racking up
ballcarriers. When Vicksburg gets the ball, Schutter moves his team briskly
down the field, in the course of things hitting Noel with a 30-yard pass. Cree
is given the ball on the 10-yard line. He starts inside, stumbles, tries to run
wide and is hit behind the line by a tackier. Chip goes down almost to his
knees, and the other players slow or halt their offensive and defensive
activities, assuming the play is dead. However, Chip recovers. For a moment he
and the defender stare at each other in something of a daze. Then at no more
than a medium jog. Chip starts toward the goal line. The Otsegos recover from
their surprise in time to tackle him at the one-yard line. Vicksburg scores on
the next play.
It is a lucky and
freakish play, as Chip gleefully admits. Nonetheless, he has come through
again, the touchdown is real, and it is how the game is won 7-0.
Saturday morning, when someone from virtually every house in Vicksburg is
raking and burning leaves, a good many Vicksburgers find time to watch Rocket
football, tackle football for little boys dressed in full, if miniaturized,
uniforms. Schutter and Dave Crotser, an offensive guard and linebacker, are
serving as officials in one of the games, apparently an important one on which
final standings, awards and trophies hinge. The adult coaches and the child
players are tense and emotional. So, too, are many of the spectators. A woman
holding a 2-year-old girl by the hand is screaming at one of the tiny players,
who has dropped back to receive an expected punt. "Don't drop it, goddam
it," she cries. "Don't drop it!"
street, Swift Noble, the Vicksburg athletic director, is in work clothes,
preparing his backyard swimming pool for the coming winter, and he is not
paying much attention to the game. "Frankly, Rocket ball turns me off,"
he says. "It puts too much pressure on children who are too young for it.
Pressures are increasing in every community and every school. Each year it
seems like it is more important that kids win and a bigger disaster if they
lose. The kids are tired because they are under tension all year long. They get
numb, immune to excitement, turned off by athletics in general because they
have had too much, been asked to do too much."
For the older,
wiser Bulldogs, the best tension reliever is playing Allegan High School, the
weakest team in the conference, which they defeat 46-0. A lot of people get a
chance to do easily what they have been wanting to do all fall. Noel catches a
touchdown pass. Schutter completes 50% of his passes. Brown kicks two extra
points. Jensen gains 157 yards and scores a touchdown. Cree gains 58 yards on
only four carries. When they don't have the ball, everyone gets satisfying
handfuls of tackles.