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Meaning of life returns for football fans

| Saturday, Sept. 1, 2012, 1:21 a.m.
Valley News Dispatch
Valley fans cheer on the Vikings as they take on Deer Lakes during the opening night of high school football at Valley Memorial Stadium in New Kensington on Friday, Aug. 31, 2012. Jason Bridge | Valley News Dispatch
Steven Dietz, Contributing Photographer
Knoch High School's Marc Vaughan leads the home crowd in a cheer against Greensburg Salem at Knoch High School in Jefferson Township on the opening night of the season, Friday, Aug. 31, 2012. Steven Dietz | For the Valley News Dispatch
Louis B. Ruediger
The Kittanning Wildcats storm the field to start the 2012 football season and take on the Freeport Yellowjackets on Friday, Aug. 31, 2012. Louis B. Ruediger | Leader Times

NEW KENSINGTON — Whether your team wins or loses, high school football is a rite of late summer and fall in the Alle-Kiski Valley.

With a warm breeze under a blue moon, the ritual started Friday night as hundreds of fans — alumni, proud grandparents, parents, students and just plain football fans — poured into the bleachers for opening night.

It's arguably the best show in town where the marching band plays, the ref's whistle blows and the fans cheer as the home team is introduced.

Among Friday's openers were Freeport at Kittanning, Connellsville at Kiski Area, and the Valley Vikings versus the Deer Lakes Lancers.

Enduring a school-record 22-game losing streak, but with a new head coach, Chad Walsh, Vikings fans have patience, according to Tonya Norman, vice president of the Valley Touchdown Club, who was running around the concession stand.

“Their spirits have been uplifted with having a new coach and a new attitude,” Walsh said — even before the Vikings went on to win the season opener, 14-7.

So are their appetites as volunteers working at the concession stand served up nonstop nachos, pretzels and pizza. The Valley High School soccer boosters' greeted fans at the field entrance selling lanyards and plastic Viking helmets for $5.

“The kids look and I know what they are thinking: french fries or a Viking hat?” said soccer and track mom Valerie Kasavage of New Kensington.

“Everybody is up for this game,” said Jean Babusci of West Deer, a Lancers fan. “Watch out for No. 55,” she said.

Who is, of course, her grandson, Dylan Dempsey, a center and guard for the Lancers.

“I love the excitement,” she said.

“The players are excited, the fans are excited,” said Babusci, to which her husband Tony added, “We'll be more excited if they win.”

For Viking fans, team spirit was high as they continued to stream into Valley Memorial Stadium at kickoff.

Near the gate was Tom Rocchi, acting superintendent of the New Kensington-Arnold School District.

“This game, Valley is going to start a winning streak that will continue,” he said.

“But winning and losing isn't that important ­— it's the community spirit that matters,” Rocchi said.

Kellye Sproull of New Kensington said, “It's a new year. We're going to start it out good.”

Regardless of record, for some fans Friday nights are all about the football.

Ralph Barr, 79, of New Kensington, who played football for the Arnold Lions when he was in high school, has been coming to local high school football games ever since.

“It's nice entertainment, and I like to watch the kids,” he said.

After playing and then watching his local high school football team for decades, he notes: “The teams are better, faster and smarter, and so is the coaching,” he said. “The players are bigger.

“The crowds seem a little calmer, too. They used to get into fights. But they don't do that anymore.”

Another longtime fan, Bill Mathewson, 71, of West Deer, said, “I just like football.

“I go to most of the home games and if they're out of it, I'll leave in the third quarter and get the game information in the newspaper.”

Mary Ann Thomas is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4691 or mthomas@tribweb.com.

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