As the Brooke Bruins prepare to play in tonight's much scrutinized, legalized, traumatized, and, well, belated West Virginia Class AAA state championship game against Martinsburg, I wondered if passion for Brooke football among the kids in the community has decreased as the number of kids in the community have?
So I asked my nephews, 9-year-old Austin Williams and his 7-year-old brother, Logan, both football players for the Bantam Colts, and who knows, if Spider-Man and Batman get out of the way long enough, they might be next generation Bruins.
''Ryan Lazear,'' Austin said of his favorite Brooke player. ''And Logan's favorite player is Ian Morris.''
''Joe DiNardo, umm, umm, Billy Perkins and Alec Buckmoore,'' Austin said, of course meaning quarterback Alec Buchmelter. (Hey, what can I say about a Franklin Primary education? Another of my brother-in-laws is the principal there, so nothing).
Still, it figures. Skill guys. Chicks dig the longball; kids dig the touchdown makers.
Those modern day Bruins stars were among a group that spoke to the Bantoms before the Weirton game this season. You can bet there were some wide eyes there.
The conversation got me thinking about how I was the very same way when I was 9. It was 1985. Brooke won its first football title that season. Two years later, it won its second. Five years later came a third.
Growing up in Brooke County as a middle-schooler 20-25 years ago, particularly if you were a future sports writer, was a pretty cool deal.
Granted, I guess kids had bigger imaginations in those days, but my pal Todd Cover, now in the banking business at Main Street Bank in downtown Wheeling, and I were like that times 10. I had four sisters who graduated, respectively, in 1987, 1989, 1991, and 1992. Look those years up, they were some pretty good years for Brooke football. Todd has a sister who graduated in 1990.
We didn't just know the names, we ran the plays in a makeshift field in our yards that had end zones and yard markers produced from grass clippings. We had that option down pretty well, I might add.
We threw it like Sweitzer (not really), Basil and Palmer, caught it like Julio, Croce, and Shaffer, ran it like Mason, Rocksandich, and Pappas, blocked and tackled like Kidwell, Householder, Brown, Staffileno and Ceglie, kicked it like Mazzone, and punted it like Reeves. In those days, you didn't need first names.
Neither of us ever so much as attempted to play football at Brooke, but that's mainly because we were baseball players as youths and on-the-job training as a freshman at Brooke wasn't the same proposition it might be today. It's probably still unheard of, come to think of it.
Anyway, the man who was in charge of all of this was Paul ''Bud'' Billiard, a larger-than-life figure among a bunch of larger-than-life figures in our eyes. And plenty of others, too. Did you see how many guys played for Brooke in those days? Those were the ones who made it that far.
Enough time has passed between then and now that I'm seeing plenty of second-generation stuff going on with the current Bruins.
Linebacker Raleigh Mason is the son of the ''Mason" I listed above - ''Rolling Raleigh Mason.'' Lineman Kyle Wales is Billiard's grandson. Cornerback/quarterback/punter Mason Bates' stepmother, Erika, graduated from Brooke in 1994 with me. (His dad, Joe, is a Weir grad).
Lazear's father, Jim, was a little before my time (sorry Jimmy), but the Lazears have a pretty strong branch on the Brooke football family tree. There must be countless others - uncles, friends of the family, etc. Bruins don't go far. Jim Lazear left, but said he came back because he wanted his kids to be Bruins and experience what he did.
There's no doubt every community is like this in some way. I ran into a guy last summer out at Jamboree in the Hills who played at Monroe Central a decade ago. His stories were amazing. But there are a lot of small schools around here that are conducive to things like that. Brooke football was the only game in town from Weirton to Wheeling. And they celebrated it as such. Clearly, with the last two seasons being what they've been, and with young eyes like those of Austin and Logan looking up with reverence, it still is.
So get out there and make a name for yourselves tonight, fellas. You never know who will remember you 25 years later.
Jim Elliott can be reached via e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org