Late last night, our family dog, Wolfie, camped in front of my son, Sam’s room. Admittedly, Wolfie isn’t the brightest dog ever taken from the animal shelter. He can sense bad weather, though. Like most dogs, he hates thunder. Sure enough, it started to rumble off to the northwest. Wolfie’s never wrong about the weather.
My first thought went to the big sports weekend and the predicted bad weather. It’s Homecoming for Maryville High School Friday night. The LeBlond football game could get messy and that not even counting those soaked dresses of the homecoming candidates.
Northwest has a huge game at Pitt State, where bad weather also is forecast. The boys’ soccer team is in a tournament in Kansas City, the softball team is scheduled to play a tournament in St. Joseph and the tennis team has won their district tournament. The only certainty is the volleyball game will not be affected. It’ll always be dry and no wind for volleyball.
I personally did not have a memorable athletic playing career, but some of the most memorable moments in my time on athletic teams or involved in athletics came during bad weather.
I had just turned 16 years old and had my first car in the summer of 1966. Somehow, many of the boys at the Wilber-Clatonia Schools had the opportunity to earn a little money during events at Memorial Stadium on the University of Nebraska campus. Just before the start of high school football practice at the end of July was the time for the Shrine All-Star High School football game at Memorial Stadium.
Four of my friends and I had never done anything like this, but we had the opportunity to sell concessions at the game. We had to haul pop or hot dogs into the stands, selling our product.
I was just getting into it at halftime when dark clouds came in and you could hear thunder in the distance. I’m a little like Wolfie, the dog. I might not be the brightest, but I can get out of the weather. I headed for the balcony overhang in an effort to stay dry.
The rain hit halfway through the third quarter and it was a big thunderstorm. The good news is the rain made everyone hungry and I sold hotdogs like crazy. The bad news is the lightning forced the game to end early. My great business headed for the exit.
After collecting our earnings, the five of us ran in pouring rain for my rusted out, 1955 Buick. At 16, I didn’t have much experience driving in the rain and it was pouring. I could hardly see out my windshield, not only because of the rain but the lousy wipers in my ancient car.
I was able to see just enough to know that the car in front of me had suddenly put on their brakes. I slammed on mine to avoid a rear end collision. I stopped in time, but the two cars behind me didn’t and their was a nasty rear end crash.
At 16, I didn’t know much about driving rules. I thought I was at fault for slamming on my brakes. As it turned out, the drivers behind me got tickets for following too close. The guy that hit me had to pay for damages to my car. I could drive it, but they declared it totaled. The insurance payment was a whopping $350.
My senior football season was pretty forgettable except for one Friday in the middle of the season. Wilber-Clatonia, a new consolidation, was to play Norris High School, also a new consolidation. My hometown of Clatonia tried to become part of the Norris consolidation but was rejected. Too bad, Norris had a really good football team.
That night, a rain storm moved in. There wasn’t any lightning, so the coaches decided to play the game. The game was at Norris and the field was played on the baseball diamond. At one end zone was the dirt infield. Teams weren’t allowed to run a play in the muddy mess on that dirt infield.
We lost that game 6 – 0, which is much closer than it would have been in good weather. The memorable part came in pre-game warm-ups. Irv Friesen, the assistant football coach, was throwing passes to linemen during warm-ups. He would intentionally throw the ball long, yelling we should dive for the pass.
I know what my teammates were thinking. Why should a bunch of linemen dive for passes? That really made Coach Friesen angry. When my turn came up, I had a different attitude. Diving looked like fun. Coach Friesen put the ball just out of my reach and I did a full out dive in an effort to catch his pass.
I knew I wouldn’t have a chance to catch it, but the aftermath caught everyone’s attention. I was like a water skier, kicking up water and causing a wake. I must have slid 10 yards in the muck. I wasn’t much of a leader on the football team, but I had led the way for fun in the water. All the linemen were doing their best diving after errant passes. I’m not sure it was Coach Friesen’s motive, but getting muddy and wet early made us a lot more aggressive than our talented opponents. We didn’t win the game, but we won the battle of the muck.
In 1981, I was a coach at Wilber-Clatonia High School. Someone got me tickets to the Nebraska – Auburn football game in Memorial Stadium. I wasn’t selling hot dogs, but as hard as it rained, I wished I could find the balcony overhang.
I’ll never forget that game. It was a year before Nebraska would be really good. Turner Gill was the quarterback and Mike Rosier, a future Heisman winner, was in the backfield, but they had two loses early in the year. They couldn’t afford to lose to Auburn.
Fortunately, Auburn didn’t have a Bo Jackson. He would turn the Auburn program around the next year. They did have a big fullback by the name of Ron O’Neil. With O’Neil running, Auburn had a 3 – 0 lead at halftime. The rain never let up and Nebraska was thankful.
Auburn would fumble a whopping 10 times, losing five of them. They also threw an interception in the red zone. The Huskers were on their way to a great season winning 17 – 3, in a big part because of the weather. I never did find that overhead and was soaked down to my socks.
The absolute worst conditions I ever was a participant in was my only year as the athletic director at Doane College. We had replaced the turf, but the company we hired put the sod in too late in the summer and it never took root.
To make things worse, it was a very wet fall. Doane shares their field with Crete High and they had a game on Friday, while Doane played at home on Saturday. I was ready to have the high school postpone their game until after the Doane game Saturday, but the coaches agreed that the high school game could be played on Friday. Who was I to disagree?
It had been raining all week and it started up again Friday night. By the time the college team took the field, it was mud from sideline to sideline. It was a horrible decision on my part and affected football at Crete the entire year. The only good result is it forced Doane and the community to consider putting in artificial turf so that would never happen again.
I don’t know what will happen to Maryville’s Homecoming or soccer, which plays in anything except lightning, or softball which could only play on turf. I do know when that thunder is heard in the distance, it will affect sports.