Old sports writer rides again

Jeff Gilliland Staff columnist

For the first time in a long time I covered a high school football game last week. It was not how I intended to spend my Friday evening when I woke up that morning, but it ended up being enjoyable to step back in time a bit.

You see, I am no stranger to covering high school football games. I’ve done it countless times, but until last Friday it had been a few years since I stepped onto a football field with a clipboard and camera in my hands. So it was somewhat surreal when my wife picked me up on a perfect autumn evening and toward Goshen we headed.

I was instantly reminded of the time my wife and I traveled to a football game in New Richmond sometime in the 1980s. Back in those days Hillsboro played New Richmond the second game each season, and those trips have always stuck in my mind. I do not remember the score of that 1980s game, or even who won, but I remember listening to a Cincinnati Reds game on the way there and an enjoyable evening with my wife.

During the course of events last Friday several similar thoughts of football games past crossed my mind, so I figured I’d share.

For those of you who thought Hillsboro always opened the season with New Richmond, you are correct, sort of. Hillsboro played New Richmond in its first football game of the season from 1972 to 1980 (Hillsboro went 4-5 in those games). In 1981, those games moved to the second game of the season and remained there through 1991 (Hillsboro went 6-5 in those games). The Indians joined the Southern Buckeye Conference the next year and the NR games moved to later in the season.

It was in October of 1983 that I covered my first high school football game. I don’t remember the score or the opponent, but I do remember that it was played at Richards Memorial Field in Hillsboro. In the years that followed I some interesting things.

There was the time in the mid ’80s when a blinding fog bank descended on the field at Circleville High School just as the first half ended. When the players returned to the field the fog was about all anyone could see. Standing on the Hillsboro sidelines, all I could see of the Circleville team on the other sidelines was some legs, but the game went on.

In the early 1990s there was a big fight at Richards Memorial. It was late in the season, the Indians were hosting Western Brown, and both teams were having good years. There were multiple personal fouls called on both teams during the game, then as the teams were shaking hands after the game it happened.

I’ve never been sure how it started, but near the outbreak of the melee someone from Western Brown smashed Hillsboro’s Joe Moses, who was injured and not dressed, upside the head with a helmet, leaving the Hillsboro kid’s face a bloody mess.

In the blink of an eye fights broke out all over the field. Coaches were throwing players off the piles, kids were jumping back into the fray, and the fans were at the edge of the field when the powers that be finally restored control.

I have four vivid memories from those couple of minutes. One was that I had shot all my film and could not take any pictures. Another is a Hillsboro coach grabbing kids by the back of their jerseys and throwing them off piles like they were rag dolls. Another is a different coach tackling one of his own players several times. The kid had been in trouble and the coach was obviously trying to keep him from getting into more. The coach tackled the kid as he dashed toward a pile. The kid wiggled free, and the coach tackled him again. The same scene played over several times before calm was finally restored. Lastly, being a short distance from a couple of the fighting piles, I remember wondering what I was going to do if some kid came after me. All I can remember is standing there in kind of a trance, figuring that anyone that came close was going to have to deal with my clipboard and camera before they got to me.

I was covering a game in Greenfield one night when the second half was shortened, and not because of weather. The Tigers were playing some inner city school about the time sagging pants were coming into style. I don’t think the phenomenon had hit Greenfield yet, but some of the inner city kids were wearing their football pants in that sagging style – really. The game was so lopsided in the Tigers’ favor that at halftime the coaches agreed to cut the second half quarters to eight minutes each.

There was the time I presented Hillsboro football coach Jim Horne with a state championship award. Yep, in 1995 Hillsboro finished 10-0 in the regular season and was ranked No. 1 in the final Associated Press High School Football Poll for Division II schools. I worked for the Greenfield Daily Times then, and since the Daily Times was a voting member of the AP poll, and because I lived in Hillsboro, I got the honor of presenting the poll championship trophy to coach Horne.

At that time the Indians were in the midst of the greatest run of football teams in school history. Starting in 1992, Hillsboro posted regular season football records of 10-0, 8-2, 9-1, 10-0, 10-0, 7-3 and 10-0.

It was during that time that I had the pleasure of watching every high school football game the late TJ Turner played. Turner was the backbone of many of those great teams and went on to great success at Michigan State before becoming the only Highland County athlete to ever play in the NFL.

But Turner was not the only star on those teams. Several come to mind, but Keith Ford stands out among them. I have saw many outstanding running backs at Hillsboro, but Ford was the best. All he did in 1995 – according to my unofficial stats – was rush for 1,387 yards and 24 TDs on 136 carries. That’s a whopping 10.12 yards per carry.

The Indians were so dominant in those years that sometimes the only thing that kept me interested was seeing how full they could fill my state sheet.

Recent years have not been so kind to the Indians. But they have been through tough times before. In fact, since South Central Ohio League football started in 1923, Hillsboro has claimed just two titles – a sole championship in 1930 and tri-championship in 1985.

When I was a kid I went to lots of Hillsboro football games. It seemed like they never won. So one time I looked it up. From the time I was 5 until I was 13, Hillsboro had seasons of 0-10, 0-10, 3-7, 1-9, 5-5, 4-6, 1-8, 2-8 and 2-8; and won just five SCOL games over those nine years.

But the Indians rose from those ashes, posting .500 or better records in 10 of the next 17 seasons before that first 10-0 squad rolled around in 1992.

So what have you learned? Probably not much, except that all things go in cycles, and sometimes even old sports writers can take the field again.

I will tell you, though, that there have been two wonderful technological advances in 30-some years. Camera film no longer has to be developed after each game and Google maps make it a lot easier to find unfamiliar high schools.

Reach Jeff Gilliland at 937-402-2522 or on Twitter @13gillilandj.

Jeff Gilliland Staff columnist
http://timesgazette.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/web1_1-Jeff-1-3.jpgJeff Gilliland Staff columnist
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