Allegany Communications Sports­­

Yesterday we discussed the annual advent of fall high school sports practices in Maryland and West Virginia and we mentioned a loyal group of folks affectionately known as railbirds, fence-leaners, alumni and fans who are as much a part of summer football practice as summer football practice.

The beginning of summer practice gives these folks reason for waking up in the morning because they love high school football so much that they go to practice each day and stand along the fence or on the sideline at every high school in America for the sole purpose of watching football practice.

It’s a wonderful thing that so many generations of adults take such an interest, and that interest is a huge part of what makes high school football here in our area everything that it is, including not perfect. But as my old friend Kevin Royce, who was a pretty darn good football player, once told me, “The only thing I can think of being more boring than practicing football is watching football practice. I don’t get it.”

Certainly, with Kevin’s old high school football coach, the late Charles E. Lattimer, running things, practice had a tendency to be anything but boring, but his point is understood. Watching a scrimmage, I understood; but watching drills and conditioning? I never understood that, including when the Washington Redskins trained here and I had to watch it; or at least be there.

While high school football coaches everywhere are likely grateful for the interest and the support of the respective communities, neither do they fully understand it to the degree of attending practice each day because high-school football coaches are by nature very suspicious.

I know this first hand because a big part of my job this time of year involved working with high-school football coaches. And while I was a student manager for the Fort Hill teams Royce played for, part of our job during practice was to find out, in the words of Coach Lattimer, “Who the hell is that guy and why the hell is he here?”

Coach Lattimer’s suspicions were never directed toward the regulars who stood along the backside of the press box taking in the day’s drills, although the presence of a few of them were just tolerated. No, the security checks we as mere lads had to administer were usually saved for the 40 or 50-something year-old man Coach Lattimer did not recognize, who would invariably be standing 200 yards away from the actual practice, which is likely what made Coach suspicious to begin with.

“Excuse me, sir,” we were instructed to say, “Coach Lattimer would like to know how you are affiliated with Fort Hill and the Fort Hill football team.”

Most of the time, the guy would simply turn around, get in his car and drive away without saying anything because Coach Lattimer’s poker skills were usually spot on. One time, though, the object of the Lattimer inquiry dug in and, as my stupid poker luck would have it, he dug in with me.

“You tell Lattimer,” he said with great indignation, “it’s none of his damn business.”

Right. I’m going to tell Coach Lattimer it’s none of his damn business. I have a picture of that.

“You tell that (so-and-so) I graduated from Fort Hill.”

At this time, as practice had come to a stop until I could run (not very fast) the 200 or so yards to conduct the investigation, then run the 200 yards back to file my report, a voice from afar came booming through the summer humidity.

“Well!!?? We don’t have all day, son!”

It was Coach Lattimer.

Deciding it would be more efficient and less stressful for me to yell back rather than to run back, I yelled, “He graduated from Fort Hill, Coach!”

From 200 yards away came “Hell’s fire, son! So did George Stimmel. Get him the hell out of here!”

George Stimmel, of course, was the Allegany football coach at the time. I, on the other hand, was on quite the spot because being a Fort Hill manager did not involve Navy Seals training. So I turned to the man on the other side of the fence and said, “You see what I’m working with here? Please help me. If practice doesn’t start soon, it’s going to be my (arse).”

To which the man shook his head, accused Coach Lattimer’s parents of not being married and walked away mumbling some other words I would dare not repeat to my commander, and it was at that moment I decided that for the rest of my life I would never attend another high school football practice I did not have to attend.

Mike Burke writes about sports and other stuff for Allegany Communications. 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 [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeMDT