The world of pro sports often leaves me disillusioned. Money, selfishness, egos, drugs - the list is endless.
And then you watch a game that reminds you of why you’re a fan of sports.
I had the pleasure to watch the home opener of the Virden Golden Bears high school football season back on Friday, Sept. 6. But before the first kick off, there was the preparation for the opening game.
For two weeks prior to the first day of school, the players practiced and the coaches coached on an unmarked patch of grass some 50 yards away.
Then earlier in the week, the football field was finally mowed - overgrown and unused during the hot summer months.
The day before the game, some of the Virden players were laying down the white out-of-bounds lines and other lines that indicated every 10 yards. Earlier that morning, two additional bleachers were also erected on one sideline to complement the smaller ones already there.
Then finally, game day.
It was one of those beautiful late summer days, mid-20s Celsius, rich blue sky and the feeling that there’s no better place to be than on the Prairies.
Thirty minutes before kick off, Virden Collegiate Institute classmates started to fill the bleachers. Then came the moms and dads followed by what looked like an entire elementary school. By game time, the length of the sideline from one end zone to the other was filled with Golden Bear fans. There must have been hundreds of spectators.
Dozens of cars parked on the grass beyond one end of the end zone. And at the other end of the field, the goal post tilted back lazily about 20 degrees, looking like Virden’s football version of the Leaning Tower of Pisa - and appearing that those goal posts had been like that for quite some time.
Just beside the football field no more than 20 yards away is the picturesque local Lions campground - running alongside one end zone to the other end zone.
Quite the colourful scene. The corrugated steel food concession structure stretching out along the sideline next to the fans, a once powerful cargo shipping container now painted in purple and gold with cut out squares to serve customers, was doing a brisk business.
And on the opposite sideline stood the football players - the hero’s from Virden and the enemy rightfully named the Park West Outlaws.
There were loud cheers from the crowd when the hometown Virden Golden Bears made a big play. Few people left early. The game went back and forth. It was too close to call.
Meanwhile, even the 50/50 draw was reflective of a generous spirit when the winner gave their winnings back to the Virden football program.
How about a video scoreboard? Nope, it was all done by hand where someone turned over large number cards as the teams scored points.
No game clock either. No possibility of last second heroics. Here’s the way it worked: Near the end of the game, the official let the announcer in the small booth know that there were three plays left - not minutes, plays. Then the announcer told the crowd over the loudspeaker and the players and coaches played three more plays. And that was that.
What a wonderful setting. If the American illustrator Norman Rockwell were there he would have had a great image on which to reflect the purity of high school football on the Canadian Prairies.
When the game ended, I watched the Virden players, high five and hug each other (they squeaked out a 22-16 win). Park West with their shoulders slumped and helmets dangling in their hands, stood around, unsure of what to do and watched their opponents celebrate, then slowly walked back to the yellow school bus that was waiting to take them home.
I wish I could have said to each and every one of the players: “Gentlemen, remember this day because they won’t get much better than this.”
And that’s why I’m a fan of sports.