WHEELING - The cold tubs are no longer empty. Instead, bodies dripping with sweat are lined up, waiting impatiently to jump into a contraption that would make members of the Polar Bear Club blush.
The sounds of whistles blowing and pads cracking began in earnest Friday on the Ohio side of the river as schools reported for the opening of practice. Their West Virginia counterparts join the fracas Monday.
Yes, folks, football is back. The season begins in less than four weeks, which seems like an eternity when you've been waiting since early December.
I enjoy just about every sport out there, but have never made any bones about which is my favorite. I can't really explain why the love for high school football courses through my veins the way it does, but I will give it a try.
You see, football is special. As I've typed previously, whether your favorite high school goes 10-0 or 0-10 this season, the community in which you reside will rally around the same cause. The only colors that matter are the ones your boys are wearing on Fridays or Saturdays.
There's a feeling you get walking into a small-town stadium that people in places like New York or Los Angeles will never experience. There's more entertainment options in the Ohio Valley than most will lead you to believe, but the one place you can find just about everyone on a weekly basis, is the football field.
Make no mistake, our children are smart enough to realize this also. It's why many of them spent their summer 'vacation' in the weight room and/or running through the neighborhood.
To make a long story short, you better be ready to go when the season starts because this will be the quickest 10 weeks of the calendar year.
2013-14 Park Class 'Got It'
If such as thing as a hard-bound copy of sports writing etiquette existed, at or near the front of the book it would tell us under no circumstances is it permissible to cheer for the people you are covering. I not only get that, but abide by the imaginary code that you only find occasionally on signs inside a press box.
That being said, there are times as a human when I find myself wanting good things to happen to good people. Graduated Wheeling Park football players - Zach Phillips, Geremy Paige, Matt Hackathorn, Eric Banks and Liam Casey - fall into that category for me.
It wasn't long after a picture surfaced of those five, arm-in-arm, walking off the Wheeling Island Stadium turf together for the final time after the Rudy Mumley OVAC Charity Football Classic last Sunday night, that I realized I am truly going to miss covering and interacting with those young men. Sure, it's awesome to document great athletes, but it's something all together different when they also get what life is about.
These guys were always at the ready with a 'hey, Mr. Rine.' Truth be told, I'm not a fan of being called 'Mr.' because I still see myself as relatively young as a 37th birthday quickly approaches next month. The thing is, I never corrected or advised them that a simple 'Shawn' would suffice, because in my mind that's like telling someone their parents did too good of a job raising them.
To these five, I say see you later, not goodbye.
Come to think of it, none of you will be in my coverage area the next four years, and according to that handbook, that makes it OK for me to cheer for you from this point forward.
Shawn Rine can be reach via email at: firstname.lastname@example.org