Homecoming remains our very best day

MIKE BURKE

Allegany Communications Sports­­

Certainly I saw Fort Hill as the favorite coming in, but I believed it would be a better game than it ended up being; but the Sentinels clearly had other thoughts on the matter.

Fort Hill was a machine in its 47-21 Homecoming triumph — a true Big Red Machine, as was the popular nickname for the Sentinels in the 1970s; but Allegany can’t worry about that now as the Campers have business to attend to. So while there will be no Homecoming Hangover for the Sentinels this week with a first-round bye as the top seed in the West Region, third-seed Alco must approach the week as one of opportunity with its first-round home game against No. 6 Smithsburg.

The Campers can’t dwell on what happened on Saturday or even concern themselves with a possible second meeting with the Sentinels down the road in the MPSSAA playoffs, because too much has to happen for that to even be a thought. Yet the Campers do have quite an opportunity in front of them — to keep playing and to keep winning — and that’s how they need to approach it, because they have a chance to make what has been a good season an even better one.

As head coach Bryan Hansel told the Cumberland Times-News after the game. “We gotta start fast for once, that would be nice. Smithsburg’s keeping us from our goal of playing Mountain Ridge. If our kids wanna look past, (Smithsburg) can come up here and upset us. We gotta handle business, start fast and take control of the game. We want the next chance at Ridge and I’m sure they want the next chance at us.”

As for last Saturday, the annual City game drew a nice if not spectacular crowd, based on past Homecomings, of an estimated 4,500 to 5,000 fans, which, given Fort Hill’s dominance in the series and the absurd house-arrest rules the Allegany County Board of Education has put into effect for stadium events that discourage younger fans from attending, that is a nice turnout for this game.

It was certainly a beautiful day for a football game on Saturday. Heck, it was a beautiful day for anything with bright sun and a temperature of 75 degrees. There was plenty of electricity in the community as well, as folks were out and about dressed in their red and blue and, despite Fort Hill’s dominance, seemed genuinely excited about the game.

You just don’t see that or experience that with any other game, as there had been some noise in a faction that perhaps Allegany-Fort Hill has through recent years become just another game because of the one-sidedness of the most recent extended history — 15 straight Fort Hill Homecoming victories and 19 straight overall since 2009.

Admittedly, those are very daunting numbers and they eclipse the numbers put up by Fort Hill in the Bill Hahn era of the 1940s and ‘50s that most of us believed would never be approached again in the history of the Alco-Fort Hill rivalry. Well, not only were they finally approached, they have been dwarfed.

But just as the spirit of the rivalry that has been Allegany-Fort Hill since 1936 remained strong through the Sentinels’ 13 years of not losing to Allegany, it remains strong today through the Sentinels’ current string of success.

It’s Allegany-Fort Hill, it’s Cumberland, Maryland whether it’s football, basketball (which, oh, by the way, Allegany has dominated in much the same way that Fort Hill has dominated football), baseball, track, mock trial, arguing at a bar, you name it.

The notion that the Allegany-Fort Hill football game is no longer a rivalry is as silly as the behavior of the Duke basketball fans and their former leader Coach Kry early this century when they felt compelled to offer “Not our rival” to Maryland, then screamed and complained the loudest and hardest when Maryland left the ACC for the Big Ten.

“How could they leave their long-time rivals just for money?” they wondered aloud.

That they even initiated the “Not our rival” gibberish to merely agitate Maryland proved in itself that Duke knew all along that Maryland had been its rival because you don’t purposely set out to annoy somebody that you have no feelings for either way.

As Alex Rychwalski wrote in his Cumberland Times-News Homecoming game story, “There has been discourse in the week leading up to Homecoming on whether the Allegany and Fort Hill game is still a rivalry due to Fort Hill’s 15 straight wins in the series and 19 in a row, including the playoffs — it was easy to find the answer on the field following the game.

“The outcome wouldn’t inspire such jubilation or misery, both juxtaposed in the postgame huddles, if it were any other game.”

Allegany-Fort Hill will never be any other game for as long as there are Allegany-Fort Hill games.

As Bruce Hornsby said, “That’s just the way it is.”

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