Derry's 1983 conference championship football team to reunite
The football players in the Derry Area High School class of 1984 didn't always have much to be excited about.
From seventh grade through their junior year, they didn't win a single game. Then, a surprise season ended with a 1983 Keystone Conference Championship, and there's been a celebration going on ever since.
For the third time, this Sunday, the players, coaches and even managers from that 9-1 Trojans squad are meeting at Palumbo's for a 30-year reunion to remember that special season.
To say that members of that team have remained friends is an understatement. The relationships formed through playing football together have become an integral part of each of their lives.
“It's funny because the team is so close, and has always been that close,” said Chris Johnston, a defensive captain and senior all-conference linebacker in '83. “Even when we do those reunions, it's like we just got off the bus with them.”
As jovial as the time will be, this reunion will also be a sobering one. The team will be remembering one player whose life was tragically cut short.
Earl Fillmore was killed in Somalia during the Battle of Mogadishu in 1993. The famous rescue mission is better known as “Black Hawk Down,” and was since dramatized in the 2001 film bearing the same name. At age 24, Fillmore was the youngest person to ever reach the elite Delta Force of the U.S. Army, where he served as sergeant.
“You can't think of a more terrible thing to happen,” said Ken Hackman, now a social studies teacher at Derry. “He's truly a hero. I don't use that word often, but he truly is. He actually put his life on the line for others, and that's about as good as it gets.”
The day before the reunion, Fillmore's sister will be holding a 20-year memorial service at the old Derry Area stadium. Many of the players and coaches will be in attendance.
The qualities that made Fillmore the man he was are the same ones that set the 1983 Trojans apart from many teams today.
“He sort of epitomized what we were as a team,” Hackman said. “He wasn't real big. He wasn't real fast. He's not the kid you look at and say ‘He's going to be a football player.' ”
But as Hackman pointed out, Fillmore and the rest of the Trojans always gutted it out and gave themselves for their teammates.
“There's just something missing these days about the importance of teamwork, and being selfless and committing to doing your job,” Johnston said. “It just seems now days with all the flash and dash that it's all about the touchdown and individual stats.”
Carl Albaugh — the coach at Derry from 1978-84 — is proud of what his players have grown to become.
“(Johnston) is just an example of the type of kids we have,” Albaugh said. “Not only a good kid back then, but grew up to be a fine young man.”
The time has gone by pretty quickly for the players, according to Hackman. But the 30 years has only served to bring the group closer.
“They just remain such great friends among themselves,” Albaugh said. “I really feel your high school football teammates are just something special. And with that group, it's extra special.”
Gary Horvath is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at email@example.com.