Clinton, South Carolina, Sunday, September 17, 2017, 10:55 a.m.
Every weekend has its ups and downs. This one isn’t over. NASCAR begins its playoffs today. Formula One’s Singapore Night Race was on when I got up this morning. The National “Buh-buh-buh-BUH!” Football League is on all day and night. The Red Sox are in St. Petersburg with a three-game AL East lead over the Yankees.
I was reeling until I went over to Presbyterian College on Saturday.
The night before had been spent in Abbeville, which isn’t far but is too far to watch Clinton get clobbered, 49-12. The worst part was having to drive back home, process and crop some photos, and write about it.
On the field, a lady said, “You write a good story now.”
I said, “Ma’am, the last thing I need to do is write a good story about this game. If I write a good story, half the folks in town will be mad at me.”
I tried, anyway.
It would be worthwhile to study the superlative football program at Abbeville High School. It’s a small town, located in a remote location, with decrepit facilities and a stack of state championships most recently topped off last year. I’ve seen the Panthers play three times in the past year, and the level of fundamental soundness on display belies all the limitations on practice time that have been implemented since I played. Players today are bigger, faster, and, by and large, have no idea how to make a tackle. Since I started writing about high school football games again four years ago – after a 20-year absence watching stock cars go around and around – Abbeville is the only football program that reminds of the teams that prepared for seasons by practicing twice a day in the heat of August and for three hours after school during the season.
Abbeville doesn’t do that. Still, the Panthers know how to run, block, tackle and even pass when opportunity presents itself. They’re a modern marvel.
I don’t think the press box at Hite Stadium would’ve had room for me had it been a junior varsity game. It’s tiny. Getting there requires walking up a flight of stairs, each of which is about eight inches wide, that is a mild improvement over a ladder. I wouldn’t have gone up there had it not been for a program so that I could tell who was who. Abbeville assistant coaches watched from what looked like a phone-company bucket hoisted behind the box. Clinton coaches and broadcasters operated from the press-box roof.
I followed the game from the stands, surrounded by nice Abbeville fans, at about the 20-yard line because I selected a location where there was room to spread out a camera or binoculars on one side, the program on the other, and stat sheets on my clipboard. I enjoyed the experience except for overhearing fans behind me remarking that they “had never seen a Clinton team play like this.”
It was only one game, but the Panthers’ offense riddled the Red Devils, who rushed for 177 yards and consumed lots of time, or else there’s no telling how many points Abbeville would have scored. It pains me to report this. The operative phrase from the Clinton side after game was undeniable: “We’ve got to get better.”
Maybe they will. Maybe the shock of this setback will contribute to a turnaround. Character is shaped by how one responds to adversity.
The highlight – no, the light – of the trip was stopping by one of South Carolina’s great restaurants, Yoder’s Dutch Kitchen, for supper. I first ate there on April 8, 1976, which I remember because a family friend named Lewis Smith took me there for my 18th birthday.
High school football games take a terrible toll on my gradually worsening, arthritic right knee. It’s much worse a day later. On Saturday, I tuned in Furman’s visit to North Carolina State, which was eerily similar to Clinton’s visit to Abbeville. The Panthers and Wolfpack both scored 49, and the Paladins scored 13, one more than the Red Devils.
I wasn’t on assignment at Bailey Memorial Stadium last night, and, fortunately, I was thusly able to treat my knee pain with medicinal alcohol. The fact that Brent Sanders and I were Furman contemporaries, combined with the fact that Brent’s and Sharon’s son, Hayden, now plays for the Presbyterian Blue Hose, means that I gather with them and parents of other players before and after home games.
Last night the Blue Hose prevailed, 28-16, over the Campbell Camels, and a fine time was had by all. I prefer to believe that the worm turned on the weekend. When I use a term such as “the worm has turned,” it makes me inquisitive about the origin.
“Even a worm will turn” is an expression used to convey the message that even the meekest or most docile of creatures will retaliate or seek revenge if pushed too far. The phrase was first recorded in a 1546 collection of proverbs by John Heywood, in the form “Treade a worme on the tayle, and it must turn agayne.”
That sums up the weekend, all right.