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Fountain of youth found in Friday night lights

There are perks when it comes to being old.

Sure, the senior citizen discounts on food, travel, lodging and other necessities are nice; so is finding joy in spending time and sharing life lessons with your grandchildren.

For laughs, there are old folks jokes….like you know you’re old when you can cough, pass gas, sneeze, and pee all at the same time….or you know you’re old when you are told to slow down by a doctor rather than a police officer.

Here’s another joke that will help lead me into the subject of this week’s column…..I’m so old that I knew Grady Flythe when he was young.

So, some of you may be puzzled, asking yourself who’s Grady Flythe? Actually, Grady isn’t the subject of this column, but his son is as you’ll soon find out if you opt to keep reading.

But first I must pay my respects to the season…football season, that is.

Over the course of the past 40 or so years, Friday nights have been full of tradition for me. I would rush through the day….completing the necessary chores and meeting deadlines, all in an effort to make sure I left the office in time to arrive at a high school football field before 7:30 pm.

Oh…those lights on a Friday night are special along with the beat of the high school band; the sounds of pads popping; the roar of the fans; coaches barking out instructions; and the on-edge emotion along the sideline where you patiently waited for the next big play.

I lived for those moments…..from the humid nights of late August on perfectly manicured green grass – still swatting mosquitoes – through the icy chill of late November and early December on a frosty field that bore the divots of a hard-fought season.

2020 has been so different for those of us who love the game of prep football. Friday nights have been void of emotion and thrills. As I pass by Hertford County High School on my way home from work, the football stadium sits silently in the dark….just like all the other gridirons that dot the rural landscape across the Roanoke-Chowan area and statewide.

However, there has been prep football here locally during the 2020 season. Two of our local private schools, Lawrence Academy (varsity and jayvees) and Northeast Academy (jayvees only), have fielded teams while balancing the health safety of their players, coaches, and limited fans during the COVID-19 pandemic. Given my age and the fact I have underlying health conditions, I opted to play it safe and allow our local coaches to feed me post-game stats that I’ve used to write game stories from the comfort of my desk.

But yet I’ve yearned to once again stand on a sideline….trusty clipboard and pen in hand to document live action while experiencing the raw emotion of prep football.

That wish became reality. Thanks to the permission of a longtime friend, Joella Brown – Athletic Director at Northeast Academy (who I covered decades ago when she played varsity basketball at the same school) – and NEA jayvee football coach Stevie Flythe (ditto on the former coverage when he wore the Red-and-White for the football Eagles) – I finished my daily duties early on Friday, Nov. 13 and made a beeline to downtown Lasker, NC to cover the conference championship match-up featuring Flythe’s unbeaten team and Wayne Christian School of Goldsboro.

I can remember when Stevie was just a child….standing knee-high to his dad (Grady) as they watched the Eagles on that old field behind the school’s gym. I’ve witnessed a countless number of games on that same stretch of grass…dating back to the 1970’s when coach Dave Davis built a powerhouse at the school; through the years of coach Dave Brown along with those of the gentleman coach Bob Rogers; and the pickle juice swigging teams that beat down opponents when Collin Sneed was calling the shots from the sidelines. The stories I can share from those past experiences are more than enough to fill several chapters of a book.

All those memories came flooding back one more time this past Friday. It didn’t matter that the young men on the field were 6th, 7th, 8th and 9th graders….only a few of which have experienced the feeling a dragging a razor blade across whiskers. These guys have given every ounce of their energy since pre-season drills, all working in unison towards a shared goal….that of holding the championship trophy after the 4th quarter clock hit all zeroes in the season finale.

And the Eagles did just that on this night, battling back from a slow start to post a 14-12 win. It made old folks like myself and Grady feel young again….and for that I’m thankful.

Cal Bryant is the Editor of Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at cal.bryant@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7207.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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