Bryan Walters’ commentary (“Looking forward to football season,” Sunday Times-Sentinel, July 22) speaks to a truism about life in our section of the Ohio River Valley. And that is, we like our local football and have reached the point where we’re more than ready for the start of another high school grid season.
With that reality now less than a month away, we will be distracted by county fairs, last-minute vacations and preparation for the new school year starting the latter part of August. But for the fans, Friday (and occasionally, Saturday) night lights remain close in mind.
Personally, I haven’t been to a local game in more than a decade, not probably since taking photos of various homecoming royalty after their halftime coronation. Yet there was a time, going back to the first half of the 1980s, when I added local game coverage to my newspaper duties. My forte was straight news, but sensing an opportunity to make the Gallipolis Daily Tribune’s presence known, the role of sportswriter/photographer afforded me a chance to broaden my skills as well as be of further use to my employer. I was in my mid-20s with no life and energy to burn back then, so why not?
Starting out, I was probably the worst choice ever for writing about football or any other sport because I wasn’t into athletics. My high school back in New York State didn’t have a football team (it does now) and I avoided contact sports at all costs; my record shows participation in cross country, bowling and baseball as its sort-of equipment manager in senior year (for which I was truly astonished to have even received a letter), if that tells you anything. Needless to say, I didn’t follow pro ball and only occasionally attended an Ohio University game in my student days.
So I followed an old journalism school rule and studied up by reading how other newspapers covered sports. Ready or not, with more enthusiasm than expertise, I launched into a sideline and soon found it rather enjoyable.
At first, it was a little like Andy Griffith’s classic 1950s monologue “What It Was, Was Football,” but you soon picked up on the jargon, the moves and the importance of yardage gained, among the other components of the game. My focus was on the Gallia County Local Schools, which then had four high schools; Kyger Creek was the domain of its alumnus Dale Rothgeb Jr., so I handled Hannan Trace, North Gallia and Southwestern if they had home contests, more often landing at North Gallia, which netted the league championship during my time following the Pirates.
Being there on Friday nights in the fall brought me into contact with a lot of people — parents, teachers, staff and fans — that helped me with my reporting duties, particularly as I also covered the Gallia County Local Board of Education and became conversant with the issues it faced. For that experience and knowledge, the late nights going back to the office and struggling my way through another game story, followed by long Saturdays spent working with my colleagues on the Sunday T-S, became well worth the effort.
I can recall the better part of a weekend spent in the grid atmosphere late in the 1984 season. I had covered a local game, perhaps its last for the year, on Friday night. With that Saturday a day off the job, I traveled to Athens with former North Gallia assistant coach Ted Lehew and his parents, Bill and Margaret, to see the Bobcats — then on an upward swing from the late ’70s when their only guaranteed win of the season was over Marshall — challenge their visitor of the week (I don’t remember which one).
Upon our return to Pomeroy late that afternoon, Ted wanted to catch the annual Eastern-vs.-Southern game at Eastern, so with nothing else to do, I accompanied him for a fuller experience that ranged from being a spectator to a school rivalry to coaches’ (ahem) complaints over what “the paper” said about their teams’ chances of winning that week.
It was an experience I never repeated but which made an impression on me that I never forgot. And the lesson I learned was local football is one of those indelible things folks are enthused about, like it or not. Go to a game when the new season opens on Friday, Aug. 24 and see if I’m not right.
It is with sadness that we note the passing of Thomas E. Skinner of Eno on July 21 at the age of 75.
Tom and his wife, Debbie Bennett Skinner, both worked at the Tribune when I first arrived there 39 years ago, Tom in advertising (he even had his own office at the time, which I found impressive) and Debbie in accounting with Margaret Lehew. Both helped a know-nothing gentleman and scholar (not, except for the know-nothing part) become acclimated as I tried to gain a foothold in Gallia County, even when I thought I’d only be around for a single summer.
Tom was still at the Tribune when I returned as a full-time employee a year later, while Debbie had gone to work at Kmart. Because of their kindness to a callow college student, I always held both of them in high esteem. I may be late doing so, but join me is wishing Debbie and her family the best and peace for Tom. They are all so deserving.
John Holcomb of American Legion Post 161, sponsor of the annual Vinton Bean Dinner set this year for Saturday, Aug. 4, shared some updated information with me on the origins of the Vinton event and the one at Rio Grande that follows Aug. 11.
The information, in the form of 2017 presentations Holcomb made to the committee behind Rio Grande’s dinner and the annual lineage banquet of the Gallia County Genealogical Society, supports Holcomb’s contention that the local bean dinners began much later than legendary histories surrounding them have maintained.
Thus, Vinton saw its first bean dinner, or campfire as it was then called, organized by local veterans of the Grand Army of the Republic in the Civil War, in 1883 and not 1868, as some have claimed. The same applies to Rio Grande’s event, first celebrated in 1895 rather than 1870 as listed in some narratives. Newspaper accounts and state archives delved into by Holcomb supply documentation for the later dates, while none exists to back claims the first dinners were held so soon after the war’s end in 1865.
While the heritage of the bean dinners remain steeped in the conflict of the Blue and Gray, they have taken on a homecoming aspect that holds strong today. The dinners allow for residents and those who formerly lived in those communities to renew acquaintance, swap stories and family history, and enjoy food and music in a relaxed atmosphere. Vinton’s dinner has been known as a homecoming event since 1910, when attendance reportedly ran into the thousands thanks to the rail connection that served the village starting in 1880.
So whatever your views on when these activities began, take time to partake of bean soup and enjoy an activity many volunteers help to stage and to which many folks look forward every year.
Kevin Kelly, who was affiliated with Ohio Valley Publishing for 21 years, resides in Vinton, Ohio.