By Matt Welch
Times West Virginian
As the final whistle sounded Saturday night at Laidley Field in Charleston, the North-South Football Classic came to a close. And so, too, did the high school playing careers of six Marion County football players.
Jared Harr, Matt Hopwood, Andrew Summers, Vincent Delligatti, Ryan Elliott and Chase Banker all strapped up for one last time together as teammates rather than enemies, coached by East Fairmont’s Bill Haddox.
The feeling of putting the pads on for a final hoorah was bittersweet for all involved, as only Fairmont Senior’s Andrew Summers has signed to play football in college next season.
“It felt great,” Delligatti said of the feeling. “It was one last time to play. It was different playing with all of these kids that we’ve played against for a long time. It felt good to join up.”
With other sports such as basketball and baseball, players are often paired up with players from rival teams on a normal basis with AAU basketball and Legion baseball. But football doesn’t provided the same type of option. And some would argue that the egos in football rise a little higher than in other sports, presenting a challenge for a coach and the players involved.
“They’re all gentleman. They’re all good so they respect each other,” Haddox said. “It’s fun to be around those type of kids. No one is trying to be the best. They’re just there to play.”
When coaching players from rival schools, you may want to tread lightly, but you have to coach the player, not the school, Haddox said.
“You enjoy coaching those kids. Those boys are good kids. It doesn’t matter if you coach against them. That’s OK. It’s part of the competition,” the coach said. “When you coach against them you do the best you can, but when you get the opportunity to coach them you really enjoy it.”
And for those players who grow up being taught to hate the other teams in the county, playing alongside their enemies can be rough.
“You forgot the three from Bridgeport,” Delligatti said, showing that rivalries extend past county lines.
But for an event such as the North-South Football Classic, egos can fall by the wayside.
“I talked to (A.C.) Caldera and (Anthony) Bonamico (from Bridgeport) after the game and told them that it was nice to join up and not hate each other,” Delligatti reiterated.
The game didn’t go the way that the North team had hoped, falling 46-26, but that didn’t matter to most of the players involved.
What mattered, instead, was that the experience was enjoyable.
“I was different but fun,” North Marion’s Chase Banker said. “I felt everybody that was there deserved to be there. And the county had good players. We represented well.”
Indeed they were represented well, with six players on the roster along with all but one coach from coaching staff being from Marion County.
“I felt like everybody in the county had a good game,” Delligatti said. “Chase had a few touchdown catches. Andrew and Ryan and myself had some tackles. Hopwood had some good carries and Harr played well on the line.”
At night’s end, their entire football career had culminated with one final game, a game played with bitter rivals and close friends. And they were all grateful for the opportunity to represent their school, their county and their state.
Email Matt Welch at email@example.com or follow on Twitter @MattWelch_TWV.