Column: Fan for a night

Live-MikeOn Saturday night, I did something I have not done since before I took over my beat in 2007. I went to a high school sports contest, not as a reporter, but as a fan.

Now, don’t get me wrong; I root for our local sports teams. I’m always glad to see Mamaroneck walk away with a win over Port Chester, I’m certainly happy when Tuckahoe triumphs over Haldane. But I always have to retain some level of objectivity on the sidelines, keep up the appearance of professionalism by adhering to the old sportswriter rule of “No cheering in the press box.”

LIVEMIKE

Sports Editor Mike Smith doesn’t get the chance to be a fan often, but a playoff appearance by his old high school recently rekindled his school spirit. Photo/Bobby Begun

But I took off my New York State Press Association pass on Saturday night as a few former teammates and I drove up to Hopewell Junction to watch our Scarsdale Raiders take on John Jay in Scarsdale’s first appearance in the football playoffs in roughly two decades.

Since graduating from the high school in 2002, I have been back to see my share of Scarsdale football games. But, to be fair, most of those games were just a year or two after I graduated, when my friends and former teammates—or younger brothers of my classmates—were suiting up in those Scarsdale maroons.

Saturday night was different.
I had no personal connection to the players, save the name on the front of their jersey, but that was enough for me. This team piqued the interest of the alumni following a week-three win over New Rochelle and won five straight to make the playoffs, something that seemed an impossibility for the .500 teams I played on in the early-aughts.

One of the things I always lamented as a player is Scarsdale’s lack of support from the community. Sure, the Raiders halcyon days were in the late 1980s, but from the 1990s through 2000s, it seemed the team never mattered much to anyone in the community beyond the parents of the players. By contrast, teams like Harrison, Rye and Mamaroneck—at least in my mind—were always integral parts of the community, regardless of their records. Alumni would come back to catch games, citizens without children on the team would come out on Saturdays—or Friday nights—to support the squad, clad in their team colors.

Scarsdale, it seemed to me, had no connection to it’s past.

But what I saw on Saturday night—despite Scarsdale’s heart­breaking 17-10 loss—made me rethink that sentiment.

Scarsdale fans filled the opposing bleachers; parents, friends and alumns making the hour-long trip to cheer on the Raiders. It didn’t take long for my friends and I to start reminiscing about our own time on the football field—a conversation that inevitably leads to my clipping penalty that cost us our opening week game against Mamaroneck in 2001.

I saw our old 8th grade coach Rippy Phillps—a man with more passion for Raider football than anyone I’ve ever met—stalking the sidelines, clipboard in his hand, bellowing motivational instructions to the players.

I saw Steve Jackson, a hulking former Raider tight end a few years older than me, cheering alongside his wife and two young sons, who were both decked out in Raider garb. Steve introduced me to his wife, crowing about the “epic” wrestling matches he and I used to have in the weight room. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that, as a scrawny freshman giving up 60 pounds to her husband, I didn’t recall those “matches” with quite the same fondness.

Our old head coach and trainer, still part of the program, met us after the game to talk not only about the tough-as-nails team that left everything out on the field, but also about our own playing days and what we were up to now.

We lined the side of the field, applauding our boys as Scarsdale left the gridiron, beaten and weary, thanking them for the program’s finest season in quite some time. I can only imagine the pain of dealing with a playoff loss, and can’t begin to put myself inside the head of those players. But I was awash in school pride for the first time in a decade. And I hope that, someday, when these players come back after spending time in the real world, they will still feel as connected to the Maroon and White as I did for one chilly night in Hopewell Junction.

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About Mike Smith

Mike Smith has been with Hometown Media Group since 2007, serving as the company’s Sports Editor. Mike has been commended for his work by the New York Press Association, winning awards in 2008 for “Best Sports Feature” and again in 2009 as part of a team that put together “The Game,” a breakdown of the Harrison-Rye football rivalry, which won for “Best Special Section.” His weekly column, “Live Mike,” offers his unique insights into a broad range of topics in the sports world. He resides in Eastchester, N.Y. and spends most of his free time serving as the player-manager for a competitive men’s baseball team in New York City. Reach Mike at 914-653-1000 x22 or sports@hometwn.com; follow him on Twitter @LiveMike_Sports.