Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Final 48

This weekend is high school football championship weekend here in the State of Concrete Gardens. For reasons that are not entirely clear to me, in New Jersey at least among our public schools we do not actually crown State Champions but rather "Sectional Champions". This year, as was the case last year and has been for as long as I can remember each of the four Group classifications (I being the smallest and IV being the largest) will crown four different "Sectional" champions. The non-public schools crown State champions - there are fewer of them I guess so it is easier to play down to a single winner per weight class as it were.

It actually adds a feeling of having been alive in ancient Rome when - in the Spring - the Missus and I are in Atlantic City for the high school wrestling tournament. There are so many kids walking around wearing high school jackets adorned with endless combinations of Roman numerals (North I/South IV/Central III) that I find myself wondering just how to get to the Colosseum from Boardwalk Hall.....and wishing that I had the legs to pull off walking around in public in a toga. Oh well, I shall never be Maximus I suppose.

This morning at 10:30 or so in the Swamps of Jersey, New Providence High School will play against Lincoln High School for the Group I, North Jersey 2 Sectional Championship. For New Providence today's game marks not simply the end of the 2010 season. It marks the end of an era. For forty-eight years New Providence High School has played football. And for each and every one of those forty-eight years Frank Bottone has coached the Pioneers. Seems only fair actually inasmuch as he is the man who started the school's program "back in the day".

For those keeping score at home, Frank Bottone coached his first New Providence team when America was still Camelot and no one outside of the Dallas metroplex had ever paid attention to places such as Dealey Plaza or the School Book Depository. He coached his first New Providence team before the Beatles invaded America. He has been on the sidelines at New Providence High School for an extraordinary number of years.

And it is not as if he has spent that time just standing around. Coach Bottone has won more than three hundred and thirty games and seven Sectional Championships (#8 is the going-away present he is hoping for this morning). Along the way he has won so many games that only three other coaches in the history of New Jersey high school football have won more. He is an institution at the institution that he has called home for close to a half-century.

Do yourself the favor of reading the profile of Coach Bottone that Matthew Stanmyre wrote for the Thanksgiving Day edition of the Star-Ledger. You come away with the inescapable feeling that while Frank Bottone is one hellaciously fine high school football coach, the impact he has had on the sidelines pales in comparison to the one he has had on those who have played for him in their day-to-day. This morning - at age seventy-nine - he shall pace the New Providence sidelines one final time.

If Walt Disney wrote non-fiction, then this morning's outcome would be assured. He did not. It is not. While one never knows when opportunity again this way shall come, there is more than a little part of me rooting for next year to be Lincoln High's year. And for this day to be New Providence's day.

A day on which 48 years has been counted down to its final 48 minutes. 48 minutes on a field where Giants play their games. And where this morning a giant shall coach his final one.

-AK

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