MIKE BURKE

Allegany Radio Corporation Sports

I spent the weekend in College Park for University of Maryland homecoming. Because of work, it had been years since I had attended homecoming at Maryland. For the same reason, it had been years since I missed homecoming in Cumberland.

I’m sorry I missed Fort Hill-Allegany this year, particularly in light of the circumstances. For that same reason, I am very pleased I chose to return to Maryland, for you find the older you become, certain places, certain people and certain times in life mean more to your heart than ever.

I saw some folks I hadn’t seen in a long time, even a couple guys from Smokin’ Ellicott C, which is what the third floor of Ellicott Hall was known as in the late 1970s. I also met many new folks during the course of the day, which is why I always enjoy tailgating near where everybody’s friend Dale Dickerhoof sets up shop for the day.

You know Dale. Everybody knows Dale, and everybody loves Dale, because Dale loves everybody. He particularly loves the University of Maryland because of the life attending the university made possible for him. In turn, Dale is remarkably generous and benevolent to Maryland, which, indicated by the many ways it has honored and thanked him through the years, realizes it has no greater or dearer friend than Dale.

Thus, when you visit Dale’s tailgate, you are guaranteed to meet somebody new, and somebody who is closely connected to the university.

As we were visiting on Saturday, Dale, an Allegany High School graduate as well, mentioned to two of his friends that “today is also our homecoming in Cumberland. I went to Allegany and Mike went to the other school.”

One of the gentlemen looked at me and said, “You went to Ty Johnson’s school?”

“Technically,” I said, “I went to school there before he did.”

“Just a few years before, right?” Dale said with a straight face.

We all had a good laugh before the same gentleman said, “I didn’t think they ever used him enough here,” to which I replied, “That makes you an honorary Cumberlander.”

Then, as soon as he said, “Oh, my God,” I knew what was coming next …

“That is terrible what happened to the Fort Hill player.”

The news of the killing of Saiquan Jenkins is known far and wide, as it should be. What has been even more evident is that people everywhere care, as the show of solidarity and support for Saiquan and for Fort Hill by schools, teams and communities statewide has been moving and greatly heartfelt.

That this horrible thing would be a topic of conversation throughout the parking lots of the University of Maryland homecoming tells us they know about Fort Hill; they know about Allegany and they know about “that game,” which has reached, and deservedly so, legendary status.

People who have never seen it admit to feeling a sense of awe and admiration for the way our community supports Fort Hill and Allegany. But that’s not even the half of it. As proven on Friday and on Saturday, our community supports itself and each other.

To call Homecoming in Cumberland “the Fort Hill-Allegany game” does not do it justice. The nitwit rationale that there isn’t one high school in Cumberland “because of a football game” is so shortsighted and petty that it would take years of psychoanalysis to find the cause for such innate stupidity.

Personally, I do believe there should be one high school in Cumberland, but that is a conversation for another day. However, the rationale for there being two high schools in the city has nothing to do with this day, this week, this happening, this gift known as Fort Hill v. Allegany.

The Lord truly does work in mysterious ways, for as we have long found out through some of our most pressing, stressful and sorrowful times – the Kelly Springfield closing, Allegany head coach Tom Preaskorn’s service in Iraq, Saiquan … — Homecoming here is much more than the Fort Hill-Allegany game itself.

The entire week is a communal way of life and living, and it always seems to arrive and bring us closer together and offer us a venue for support during times when we need to be closer together and need each other’s support the most.

Don’t misunderstand, even in the most heartbreaking and uncertain times, both teams want to win the game, but as we found again on Saturday, the actual game is never really the most important part of Homecoming in Cumberland.

Sometimes it takes your getting a little older, a little wiser (hopefully) to understand that even when you were in high school so many years ago (ahem), the heart of the Allegany-Fort Hill dynamic had always been, “Sure, I can hit my brother, but don’t you even think about hitting him.”

Sometimes it takes standing in a parking lot with an Allegany guy at both of your other school’s homecoming 135 miles away on the same day that it’s all taking place once more, and feeling very proud that so many people who have never even seen it know about it.

In the case of both my school homecoming I chose to attend, and my hometown homecoming I did not attend for the first time in nearly 40 years, you find the older you become, certain places, certain people and certain times in life mean more to your heart than ever.

Mike Burke writes about sports and a lot of other stuff for Allegany Radio and Pikewood Digital. He began covering sports for the Prince George’s Sentinel in 1981 and joined the Cumberland Times-News sports staff in 1984, serving as sports editor for over 30 years. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeMDT