The small town of Glouster, Ohio, was peppered with signs rooting for the Trimble Tomcats when I was there at the first part of November. That didn’t mean a whole lot to me until I stopped to talk with a man standing in the doorway of the Glouster Fire Department. He remembered some of the fires I had photographed in the ’60s, and we were having a fine old time trading war stories. His son, a third-generation fire chief at the department, showed up to pick up some tables and traffic cones to take to the Glouster Memorial Stadium.
He said they were getting ready for that night’s playoff game against the Symmes Valley Vikings. The area had gotten a lot of rain in the past few days, so there was some concern about whether or not the field would be playable. A few days earlier, townspeople showed up in droves with tarps to keep it dry, but the rain got ahead of them.
Bring in the helicopter
The last-ditch effort was to bring in a helicopter to hover a few feet off the ground to try to dry it out. Based on the fact that the team uniforms weren’t muddy at the end of the game meant that the goal was accomplished.
A hardscrabble area
This part of Athens County was heavily into coal mining and railroads. Nearby Millfield was the scene of Ohio’s worst mine disaster in 1930. An explosion at the Sunday Creek Coal Company’s Poston Mine Number 6 killed 82 men, widowed 59 women and left fatherless 154 children. A man I interviewed in the shadow of the mine’s tipple in the 1960s said “it put black crepe on every home in town.”
The mines eventually played out, and the census shows Trimble and Glouster shrinking every decade. Glouster had a population of 1,791 in 2010, down from 1,972 in 2000. Trimble had 390 in 2010 and 466 in 2000. Almost a quarter of the people living in the communities are below the poverty line.
One thing the communities have, though, is pride and passion about their football team. The combined population of the two town may be less than 2,500, but I think every one of them was at the game. The whole town was wearing team colors and many adults and kids were sporting the team’s signature Mohawk haircut dyed red.
Team plays in WPA stadium
The Tomcats play in a WPA stadium built in 1940. I took pictures of it and downtown Glouster in 2013. When Curator Jessica and I arrived an hour before game time, we walked past a huge bonfire, bought our tickets, then were directed to a tent where I asked what it would take to get a field pass to shoot the game. I explained I had covered games there for The Messenger and wanted some updated photos for the Athens County Historical Society Museum.
A man I think may have been the athletic director gave us the passes, explained the field ground rules and told Jessica that there was some division in the community about whether the old stadium should be replaced with a new one.
At the end of the game, I saw the man talking with Jessica. Afterward, I asked her the topic of the conversation, thinking it might have been more about the stadium controversy. “He just wanted to tell me that every time he looked at me, he saw me with a smile on my face,” she said, somewhat sheepishly.
Darn, I’ve never had anybody tell ME that.
Oh, yeah, the score
Since I had the luxury of not having to shoot live action, I spent most of my time documenting the incredible team spirit in the stands. Everybody I encountered was friendly and having a good time, helped by the fact that the Tomcats dominated the game, winding up with a 55 – 8 win.
A class act
At the end of the game, the losing coach gathered his players for a few words. I stayed back not wanting to intrude. When he finished, a couple of the players started to walk off. He stopped them, saying, “We walked ONTO this field as a team, and we’re going to walk OFF it as a team.” I was impressed with the way he handled that.
I like high school football
Despite covering games in the rain, cold, fog so thick you couldn’t see across the field, and at fields so dark the players should have had candles on their helmets, I always liked small town football. These guys – the Vikings had a female player, so I should amend that – these players play for team and town, unlike pros who are doing it like another day at the office.
High school football is universal. It doesn’t matter if it’s Cape Central High vs. Sikeston or Trimble Tomcats vs. Symmes Valley. They all have the same feel.
Football photo gallery
Most of you are going to be too busy devouring turkey and making up shopping lists on Thanksgiving to spend much time here, so I’ll leave you with an easily digested photo gallery. Click on any image to make it larger, then use your arrow keys to move through the gallery.
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