The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

November 30, 2012

Harold Raker's column on high school football: Showing their respect


Daily Item

---- — We have all heard the overused phrase "These teams don't like one another," but I'm not sure, in most cases, if that is actually true.

Or is it something that writers and TV talking heads use to hype a particular game?

Those hateful rivalries probably exist more at the National Football League level (Google "Ndamukong Suh/kick'') than in college and, especially in high school.

Of course, games like Mount Carmel-Shamokin, Line Mountain-Upper Dauphin, Shikellamy-Selinsgrove -- to name a few -- are certainly heated rivalries.

One might argue that what happened earlier this year late in the game between the Seals and Braves at Harold L. Bolig Memorial Field was an indication that such hatred exists at that level. I maintain that what happened on that emotional night was an isolated incident.

More indicative of the respect that our Valley's teams have for their opponents could be seen after last week's District 4 Class AA championship game in Danville. Minutes after the Ironmen had pulled what many consider an upset victory over the Mount Carmel Red Tornadoes, ending the defending district champion's season shy of a return to the state playoffs, this scenario unfolded on the field:

The Mount Carmel players, after their post-game huddle, were walking past Danville's huddle when Mount Carmel's Northwestern University-bound tight end, Eric Joraskie, had something to say to his conquerors.

The big senior told the Ironmen that they are a great team and they played a great game. He followed by imploring them to go make something happen in the state tournament.

Danville coaches, one of whom remarked "now that is a class act right there,' asked their players to give Joraskie and his teammates a round of applause. They gladly obliged.

It was a poignant scene on a cold fall evening and it seemed especially appropriate, coming on the day after Thanksgiving.

Over the years, since Southern Columbia and Mount Carmel have been making regular trips deep into the state playoffs, including the championships in Hershey, many of their fans have been vocal in their support for the team which they loved to hate in the regular season.

I can recall often seeing Mount Carmel's red and black garb among the black and gold in HersheyPark Stadium, and vice versa.

It's kind of like how two brothers will fight each other when they are among family, but don't let an outsider try anything against one. The enemy siblings will quickly become brothers in arms.

RADIO LOVE AFFAIR: Valley fans who cannot make it to the games (even those who don't want to) and watch their favorite teams are fortunate that there is no shortage of radio stations committed to bringing the action into their homes, cars and work places.

While these guys can be a thorn in the side of us print media stiffs when press box space is at a premium, they do provide a valuable service free of charge.

One of those broadcast teams, from Sunbury Broadcasting Co.'s Eagle 107 FM, Pat O'Brien and Ryan Brandt, have seen their team, the Selinsgrove Seals, run the gamut, from state champions to almost going winless, and parts in between.

Their first season doing the Seals just happened to be 2009, when the Seals went 16-0 and won the PIAA Class AAA title in Hershey. The Seals fell off somewhat the next year, but reached another District 4 title game before losing to rival Shikellamy. The next year, fraught with disciplinary issues which cost the team most of its starters, the Seals limped home 1-9. Now this season the Seals are back in the state quarterfinals, facing Allentown Central Catholic on Friday night.

O'Brien and Brandt, along with their competition, ESPN 92.3 FM and 1240 AM, from Selinsgrove, will bring the action back to the Valley from Fred Banko Stadium in Bethlehem.

O'Brien recalled how the duo have worked through the good times and bad, and how it all started.

"Ryan and I have seen a lot in the four years -- and 51 straight games. Roger Haddon, Kevin Herr and his staff at Sunbury Broadcasting Co. had an idea that would include covering the successful Selinsgrove Seals football program. In the summer of 2009, the station asked me to come aboard and cover the Seals and I jumped at the chance," he said.

His next step was to find a partner and he brought along Brandt. He admits that the two of them "live and die Selinsgrove football."

He noted that they covered the celebration of a state championship, including a team party outside the stadium, a midnight ride through Selinsgrove and a parade the next day. They also took part in the tougher days of Seals football as the team battled through the 1-9 season.

O'Brien said the current Seals, with a solid group of upperclassmen in combination with freshmen and sophomores, are creating their own legacy within the Seals' tradition of great teams.

"The one thing that has not changed is the loyalty of the coaches, parents and the fans, he said.

He noted that coach Dave Hess always calls the Seals fans "the best in the world," and those fans have stood by the team through it all.

Seals fans hope the broadcasts continue a few more weeks.

n Assistant sports editor Harold Raker covers high school football for The Daily Item. Email comments to hraker@dailyitem.com.