PORTSMOUTH, OH – Nestled in the rolling hills and lush scenery of southeastern Ohio is a place where dreams once thought dead still live.
For many who flocked to a small stadium that once housed a high school football team, the goal of resurrecting their glory days on the gridiron was the goal.
On this night, athletes of the semi-professional West Portsmouth Tanks took on the Portsmouth Stealth (who may or may not have been named the Warriors at one time) in a heated Blue Collar Football League contest.
The action on the field, however, paled in comparison to the social significance the game had on each sideline.
Many of these athletes were once local high school standouts who may (or may not) have gotten a shot at the next level, but couldn’t make it work.
Others are victims of some of the social issues that persist in the foothills of the Appalachian mountains. They use the game as a second chance to maybe right their lives.
A few of the players looked as if they had just stepped off the stage as recent high school graduates. One player, who claimed he was 42, played with both of his knees encased in heavy metal braces. Another athlete played with a heavy pink cast encasing his arm.
No matter the back story or the rhyme, or reason, football is used on this field as a means to escape. As a way to get back to glory, to normalcy, to the American way.
And perhaps that’s why watching this semi-professional game was so enthralling.
Those guys don’t get paid large sums of money to play. They understand there probably isn’t a college or professional scout watching them.
There was no team bus, nor was there a large spread of food before kickoff. No cheerleaders, no fireworks. This was football at its most basic level.
Even with all of the obstacles, some of the players still hit the field with the kind of vigor seen at the high school level. They were simply playing for the love of the game.
The game itself, however, wasn’t as exciting as the lead-up to kickoff.
West Portsmouth dominated Portsmouth 53-18, anchored by a 28-point third quarter outburst.
Tanks quarterback Martin Snook, of Huntington, WV, threw for 107 yard and a pair of touchdowns, while also rushing for 94 yards in the game. Running back Antwan Williams, of Lexington, KY, rushed for 104 yards and a trio of touchdowns.
Stats and scores were only part of the story, though. The banter and drama on the field and the sideline, especially on the Portsmouth side, was perhaps a little more entertaining.
More than once there was bickering among teammates as a result of disorganization on the field.
Not every play was executed with military like precision. Miscues happened regularly, with players forgetting an assignment, or making a not-so-good read.
There were a handful of fumbles and several turnovers. Those at times led to arguments on the sideline, with players and coaches trying to figure out a way to solve them.
One Portsmouth player, who was fed up with the way the coaches were yelling at him, opted to quit at the start of the second half.
It was agonizing to watch that player wait for someone to unlock the locker room in order for him to grab his items and leave.
Another Portsmouth player was forced to leave the game and head to an emergency room after suffering an injury.
But that’s the risk these players take when they sign up for this game.
And the fans, all of about 150 or so, lauded them with glee, no matter if they succeeded in scoring or not.
They took pleasure in watching these gladiators of the gridiron continue to seek the glory they once had.
All of it proves that in America’s heartland, football is alive and here to stay.
(Publisher’s Note: Hays Free Press Editor Moses Leos III is on vacation and enjoying his continued reporting of sports.)