Monday, December 9, 2013
FRYEBURG - Ross Hogan pumped up the pillow he brought from home and moved his 6-foot-1 body around in its seat on the school bus, searching for a comfort zone. He found it.
The quarterback of the York High football team slept for much of the two-hour trip north to this place next to the New Hampshire border and the White Mountains. York had a Saturday afternoon football game against Fryeburg Academy.
A game played in natural light on natural grass. Randy Small, the York coach, told his players Fryeburg would have 14 points on its side of the scoreboard before the opening kickoff.
Home-field advantage, said Small. You're going to a special place.
"I love playing football here," Hogan said after the game.
Of course he does. York won 34-0, quickly turning Small's motivational chat on its head.
"It's the atmosphere," said Hogan. "It's the mountains. It's the people coming to the game."
Much of the state has embraced high school football played under the lights on Friday night. Large crowds, sometimes numbering in the thousands, turn out for these games where testosterone-fueled intensity is evident on the field and in the grandstand.
Saturday afternoon was a scene out of a John Irving novel.
Before the football game started, the school's bell rang to celebrate Fryeburg's victory against North Yarmouth Academy in boys' soccer.
Lexi James, a 20-year-old country singer from Massachusetts, sang the national anthem. James and her band, Kryer Creek, had a show at the academy's performing arts center Saturday night. I watched as Athletic Director Sue Thurston told the usual singer, Emily Ouellette, a cheerleader, that she was her No. 1 but just for that day, James would do the honors.
During the national anthem, a red-and-white T-34 military trainer flew over the field to honor military veterans and those serving on active duty. The crowd of several hundred in the metal bleachers and along the fence looked up into the sun and waved.
No, it wasn't the whoosh of an F/A-18 Hornet but the emotions accompanying it were right.
At halftime, members from various graduating classes went onto the field to be recognized by the small crowd. Students from the school's international community were with them, carrying flags. Brazil, Colombia, Finland, Great Britain, Hong Kong, Rwanda. The United States.
The older graduates had been inducted into the academy's Hall of Excellence. One was Beth Grover York Jones, class of 1966, and a former field hockey coach and teacher.
She has lived and worked elsewhere but keeps returning to Fryeburg.
When she can, she's at the football games.
No, Fryeburg isn't a Class B football power. There's a sense of community here that hasn't gone missing.
"You feel safe here," said Tom Ackley, a longtime Fryeburg Academy teacher and coach. He wasn't neccessarily talking about the safety of self or possessions and the fact that people don't lock their doors.
They don't lock their minds, either. That's the safe Ackley was talking about. Which may be why York and Fryeburg football fans mingled easily along the fence or in the bleachers. The York group was identified by its cheering after York scored each of its five touchdowns.
There were no gates to take tickets because none were sold. Security? That was Billie L'Heureux, primarily. She's a teacher and former basketball coach who has been here for about 18 years. She grew up in South Portland and was a star player at St. Joseph's College.
"We just put in a new track (around the football field)," said L'Heureux. "Everyone used to stand around the field. I encourage them to go behind the fence or in the bleachers."
She grinned. She spent her afternoon talking to fans on the other side of the fence.
"We don't get a lot but the ones who come are incredibly loyal."
A good York team took advantage of Fryeburg Academy's many mental errors and fumbles. Fryeburg had won its first two games of the season; York had split its first two.
York 34, Fryeburg 0. Of course the loss stung. No matter how nurturing this community is, winning is a good lesson even if losing also teaches.
"We're teachers," said Dave Turner, the campus kid who returned to coach football. "We've got to come back and fight, and do all the things people like to do when you're winning but not always when you lose. We'll do that."
The two school buses taking the York team home pulled out of the parking lot. Ross Hogan probably didn't reach for his pillow. Winning is never tiring.
Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at: