Over time I’ve had the privilege to either cover or at least watch the outstanding high school football teams in Centre County across the last 50 years. From the unbeaten Bald Eagle Area team of 1963 to the great Bellefonte team of 1960, the unbeaten State College teams of the ‘70s and the unbeaten Philipsburg-Osceola team of 1984 I’ve seen them from the sidelines and the press box.
All were unique in their own way and yet they had a sameness about them. All had the common denominator of a great tailback from Mike Condo at BEA, Joe Kresovich at Bellefonte, Matt Suhey at State College and Keith Powell at P-O.
The 1991-92 Penns Valley team didn’t have that. It was a running back-by-committee offense that had no superstar. That, in itself, was unusual since the Rams had a long string of outstanding tailbacks reaching back to Bob Snyder and Jan Milon in the late ‘60s and included the Dave and Dan Braucht, Marty Bechtol and Fred Ironside.
It didn’t need one to achieve greatness, to reach a height no Ram team had ever reached, winning 11 games before losing in the District 6 Class A finals where it fell to a powerhouse Forest Hills team.
It is still regarded as the best team in Penns Valley history, the unbeaten `81 team notwithstanding.
And because it wears that label Ken Mains has written a book chronicling that team and that season called Glory Boys. The True story
It’s not uncommon for someone to write a book about a special team, a special season. You could fill a library with them. Each, no matter how well or how poorly written, has its place in the heart of that sc hool and that community. It takes people back to a time of warm memories, games won and lost, players and coaches of great ability.
That’s what Glory Boys does. And the folks along Rts. 45 and 192, in Centre Hall, Spring Mills, Rebersburg, Aaronsburg, Millheim and Coburn and all of the farms in between should find it a nostalgic, 255-page trip back in time to a team that, just like all of the great ones, had its own unique cast of characters. They ranged from the All-American boy to the stereotypical jock, to the crazy macho man to the bad-ass who was on a first-name basis with some of the law enforcement people who patrolled The Valley. It had the bright guys, the guys who weren’t great students but did what they needed to do, to the ones who went to school because it gave them a place where they could play football. It had the kids from solid middle-to-upper class families to the blue collar families to those who came from broken homes and dysfunctional families.
But there was a specialness to them that Mains brings out, a specialness that only someone who knew them as friends and peers could access. A specialness that is unique to great teams.
He was part of their circle even though he wasn’t on the team. He knew which ones had a short fuse, which ones had issues with another one, who was the wildest, the funniest, the smoothest and the quietest, who were the lovers and who were the fighters.
Maybe they should have been called the Wild Bunch considering the tales Mains tells.
Like the one about one of them who took great satisfaction from riding his motorcycle at top speed down the center line of Rt. 45 between cars in both lanes. Or the one who insisted on leaving a keg party well past the DUI limit and a teammate who tried to stop him by jumping on the hood of the car. It didn’t work and he wound up hanging onto the hood while going for a 60 mph ride in the rain. Or the one who was caught in a compromising position on his living room floor with his girlfriend when his mother walked in. She threw the girl out.
It’s stories like those that set the book apart because Mains identifies them, and identifies with them, as he takes you across that season in which the team ran up an 11-0 record before hitting Forest Hills in the District 6 Class A finals. He introduces you to them, tells you about their families, their personal battles, their adolescent capers at parties. When you finish the book you feel as if you know them. Most of the people in The Valley do since a lot of them are around.
Then there is the coach of that team, a burly, barrel-chested man named Mike Flickinger who once was a part-time sports writer for the CDT but discovered that life as an English teacher and football coach was more to his liking and paid better.
In reading over his post-game comments the English teacher comes to the surface in well-crafted responses to questions. The football coach comes out as players talk about his coming into the locker room at halftime, grabbing a helmet throwing it across the room into a locker and then leaving without saying a word. The team got the message he was not happy with their first-half performance.
They talk about his often brutal practices to get them into shape, about his demands that they get tough, about how in one practice session the varsity was running against the second defense and the reserves were winning the battles because an assistant coach was telling them what play was coming. Flickinger took offense to that and told his starters, “I want to see those (SOBs) laying on the ground when this play is over.” And two of them were.
Don’t expect this book to be another Friday Night Lights because Mains is not H.G. Bissinger. Truth be told, he could have used fullback Brad Zettle, a central figure on the team, blocking for him as an editor, to take out some of the grammatical fumbles, some misused words and a factual error or two. But those are minor issues. If I were grading him, I’d still give him an A. I enjoyed the book that much.
If you’re a Penns Valley fan or just a fan of high school football in Centre County, this is an enjoyable look back to a team and a season that still glows in Ram history. It’s worth your time and money.