Share This Page

Derry's 1983 conference championship football team to reunite

| Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

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 ghorvath@tribweb.com.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.