Use your imagination and think about the sounds of football. Cleats on concrete as a team walks to the field. Players cheering for each other, their exhortations muddied a bit by their mouthguards. Coaches relaying instructions from the sidelines. Cheers from the stands. The whistles of officials.
I heard those sounds and saw some equally great sights during a 360-mile weekend road trip for a Zero Week game and a six-team scrimmage. The game on Friday night between visiting Brooklyn Center and St. James lasted nearly three hours – which is not atypical for a season-opener filled with fumbles, penalties and extra water breaks on a hot, humid night – and the scrimmage Saturday morning in Tracy was two and a half hours of practice for teams that will play their first game in a few days.
The fall sports season is in full swing all across Minnesota, with cross-country, volleyball, girls tennis, soccer, and girls swimming and diving under way and adapted soccer beginning this week. My first big journey of the fall was a grand one, on highways accompanied by lush green fields, some of the prettiest little towns in the world and roadside sales lots filled with behemothian tractors and other farm gear.
A few things I learned between Friday afternoon and Saturday evening…
--A starter’s pistol is one way to signal the end of each quarter in a football game. In St. James, the pistol is fired out of the front window of the press box, causing spectators who aren’t paying attention to jump.
--The best use of a cell phone might be as a flashlight inside a pitch-black porta-potty. This observation is based on very personal experience.
--A very lengthy football game can mess with radio talk-show plans. I was booked to utter a few syllable on WCCO AM’s “Radio Rally” scoreboard show at 9:35 p.m. Friday for what we assumed would be some postgame comments. As it turned out, the game was still in the third quarter when the radio guys called.
--Those poor, poor souls who have never lived away from a city don’t know what they’re missing. Along with the scenery on my weekend tour, the season’s crop conditions and bin-busting capabilities are always a topic this time of year. At halftime in St. James, I enjoyed chatting about how the corn and soybeans are looking in different parts of Minnesota, as well as a recent downpour that soaked the St. James area and greened things up very nicely.
--Dining on the road is sometimes an adventure. I left St. James at about 10:30 Friday night, headed for a motel in Marshall 90 minutes away. I saw one or two convenience stores that were open over those 85 miles, but opted to gamble that an actual fast-food emporium could feed me in Marshall. I hit a McDonald’s drive-through at midnight, then was back for breakfast at 8 a.m. Doesn’t make me a bad person, right? Right?
--Dining at athletic events is always easy and fun. The St. James Lions Club provided a fantastic pregame meal of burgers and all the fixings as a fundraiser for new restrooms built by club members. And after the scrimmage in Tracy, pork sandwiches and yes, all the fixings, were provided for all players, coaches, officials and fans for a small donation.
In the Zero Week game, Brooklyn Center was successful in its trip from the Twin Cities to southern Minnesota, defeating the St. James Saints 50-25. Both teams finished 2-7 last season, and the first few minutes of Friday’s game made onlookers believe this would be an even matchup.
Each team scored its first touchdown after recovering a fumble by the opponent, and Brooklyn Centaur’s Jason Barto returned an interception 60 yards for what became the go-ahead score late in the first quarter. The momentum stayed with the visitors after that, with Centaurs quarterback Chester Whalley throwing for two scores and running for two, and Tyrell Beasley scoring two TDs on the ground. For St. James, Chris Johnson ran for two touchdowns.
“We got after it and some of our athletes made plays,” Brooklyn Center coach Willie Finley said. “Our O line blocked well, our quarterback checked down, the kids played and they stayed with the game plan. They stayed faithful, they kept their heads up the whole game, even when we were down in the beginning.
“There’s nothing better for a family than a road trip, right? It brings all the true colors. So we came together as a family and it was great.”
Saturday’s scrimmage was well-planned as a way for teams as well as officials to get their games in line for the upcoming start of the season. The six teams were from Wabasso, Springfield, Minneota, Dawson-Boyd, Red Rock Central and Tracy-Milroy-Balaton. The field was split down the middle, with two teams using 50 yards and switching between offense and defense while two teams sat out during each 30-minute session. On the adjoining practice fields in Tracy, B squads did the same.
This is the ninth consecutive year that Tracy-Milroy-Balaton has hosted this scrimmage. The teams haven’t changed much; Windom chose not to come this year so Red Rock Central took that spot. And the teams bring some heavy football tradition: Minneota was the Class 2A state runner-up last season and Dawson-Boyd was the 1A runner-up, Tracy-Milroy-Balaton was a 1A state playoff team, Wabasso went 9-2 and lost to Dawson-Boyd in the Section 5 title game, and Springfield is a traditionally powerful program. Three of the teams come from the Little Sioux Conference and three from the Southern Minnesota Conference.
“There’s some pretty good football down here,” Tracy-Milroy-Balaton co-coach Derek Flann – owner of a world-class Fu Manchu moustache -- said in an understatement.
As the scrimmage schedule wound down, everyone headed to the school parking lot for lunch. The hungry horde sat on wooden benches at wooden tables; sweaty, tired players demolished their paper plates filled with food.
“The parents have really taken care of all the work away from the football field for us,” Flann said. “We’ve got a group of parents who go out and get a bunch of sponsorships, they set everything up, they get the food ready. All we’ve got to do is coordinate the teams that are coming.”
Indeed, kudos to the parents from Tracy-Milroy-Balaton for a solid lunch that sent visitors home with full tummies. And thanks to all the friendly officials, coaches, players, parents and fans who said hi.
I can’t wait for my next trip.
BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 15
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 915
Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn