It is probably equal parts telling, unsurprising and pathetic that one of my earliest childhood memories is a Jay-Livermore Falls football game.

Who won? Ah, who cares? The creaky-kneed alumni on either side would dispute the account, anyhow. They would insist that somebody spiked my sippy-cup or that I conveniently suppressed a phantom pass interference penalty that won or lost the game.
And there’s the beauty of it all, right there.

This stuff matters. Through the divorces, bankruptcies, babies with ear infections, failed car inspections and pain-in-the-butt landlords that may lie ahead in life, those memories are the ones that keep so many of us afloat.

You might not remember what was in the frozen dinner you begrudgingly fed the microwave and then yourself last night. But no chance that you’ll forget one scintilla of the story that captures your one moment of gridiron glory from a frosty Friday night or sweltering Saturday night in 1977, 1985 or 1990.

Or 2009.

High school football returns to our neighborhoods five evenings from now. And with apologies to soccer, field hockey, cross country and golf — all of which I love to cover as Maine’s most glorious season provides the postcard-worthy backdrop — football is what represents my own, annual, personal renaissance.

Summer is the closest thing a sports columnist … well, most sports columnists … will experience to prison. You are generally chained to a desk.

Ninety percent of your stories are obtained by the inspiring, personal touch of a phone call. If you’re confined to the office it isn’t even a cell phone, for Alexander Graham Bell’s sake. With every stroke of the keyboard, even your most sterling prose grates your own ears as if you’re penning it in the passive voice.

It’s depressing. I will bet you a beer that most self-inflicted job changes and midlife crises among sportswriters happen in July or August. There is no raison d’etre, no joie de vivre. Shoot, we’d even consider moving to a country where middle-class people actually say stuff like raison d’etre or joie de vivre wih a straight face, if it meant a change of scenery or getting a story and finding the energy to write it.

Ah, but the return of high school sports, specifically football, that is the kiss of life. For we sheltered, ink-stained, set-in-our-ways, brutish types, it is the equivalent of a six-months-overdue oil change to the 1991 Ford Tempo we drive.

It soothes the soul. It reminds us why we chose a profession that forces us away from our families almost every night and weekend.
I love the game. Personally, I don’t understand anyone who doesn’t get football. That seems to fall somewhere between un-American and unholy on any right-thinking list of transgressions.

I love the echo of a clean, open-field hit. The thump of a coach’s hand against a young man’s helmet after the kid made a game-saving special teams play that nobody else noticed.

I love the aroma of hot dogs and french fries that my medical chart and better judgment don’t allow me to eat. I love the collective cacophony of marching bands, cheerleaders and screaming fans. Even the legally insane ones.

I love the constant turnover, and I’m not talking about fumbles and interceptions. We won’t see the same team twice. Every two years, three at the most, a team’s roster is turned upside down, and I get to celebrate the accomplishments of somebody new. Four short seasons ago, Dirigo High School barely could get out of its own way on the football field. This November, the Cougars could be crowned regional or state champions.

I love the people who run the show. Here’s a roster of the coaches in our tri-county area: Doug Gilbert, Darren Hartley, Shawn Austin, Moose Curtis, Mark Bonnevie, Mike Hathaway, Bill County, Dick Mynahan, Brad Bishop, Gary Parlin, Jim Aylward, Dave Wing, Nate Danforth, Mark Soehren and Joel Stoneton.

That’s close to 200 years of head coaching experience. I’ve often said the measuring stick I use for a coach is whether or not I would want him to coach my son. Heck, I would trust most of those gentlemen to raise my son. We are blessed in this region.

I’ll be blessed to shake one or two of their hands Friday night. And then to have the bigger thrill of greeting an unassuming kid with eye-black dripping down his face like a pro wrestler’s makeup, one who had no idea he was about to become a hometown hero for a weekend.

Football is here. I’m a little kid again. No, check that: I’m reborn. And if you find that pathetic or shallow, it’s your character flaw, not mine.

Kalle Oakes is a staff columnist. His email is [email protected]

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