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Alumni football games allow former players to relive glory days

Written: Sep 17, 2010
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By JOE SIMON

New Castle News

Somewhere in western Pennsylvania, Robert Bishop’s phone is charging.

The little battery light on his phone is fully exhausted, not because he was listening to songs on it for hours at a time or surfing the web on his innovative, touch-screen device.

No, it’s been charging for the last few months — all day, every day — because people want to become part of the newfound event he, his brother and a friend came up with about a year ago: alumni football games.

“I honestly cannot leave my house without my charger,” said the Mercer County businessman, shaking his head as he checked his phone to see who was calling. “It’s non-stop. I’m on my phone six hours a day.”

People are excited for these games because it’s not just another matchup of old men playing two-hand touch. This is the real deal. The lights and pads are on, officials are on the field and fans fill the stands. Not just any stands, either. Most games are held at the stadium of one of the teams playing. Shenango, for instance, likely will host a game in late November — if the school allows it — and Bishop said he’s hoping for many more matchups in western Pennsylvania.

“Football is big in the small towns,” he said. “Believe it or not, the smaller the school, the better the turnout (for alumni games). There’s higher attendance, higher player registration and better games. There’s just a sense of community in smaller towns. People are more attached because they know everyone in their class.”

Before you start doing push-ups and sit-ups in preparation for a triumphant return, you might want to call a few friends. Bishop doesn’t set these games for a measly five-on-five matchup. Each team must have at least 25 players committed to playing. Shenango, which tentatively is set to play Mohawk right around Thanksgiving, didn’t have much of a problem acquiring people.

In fact, when 1990 Shenango High graduate Roger DeCarbo Jr., who still lives in the area, found out, he came up with a handful of guys in a matter of hours.

“I called people. People called me,” DeCarbo said. “It’s amazing, because some of the guys who are putting this together said Shenango’s response has been incredibly fast. We’ve had 23 people sign up in a week.”

DeCarbo, now 38 and working at DeCarbo Funeral Home & Crematory in New Castle, said the reason for the rapid response is simple: Any former football player would kill to relive his glory days.

“I’ve always said, ‘If I could just have one more shot, just a few more plays,’ and I know I’m not the only one who’s thought that,” he said. “I just want one more chance.

“My brother’s going to play, and I never got to play with him. That’s exciting. A lot of guys he grew up with that I never got to play with are involved, so I’m excited.”

Bishop, a 42-year-old who played football on Westminster’s national championship team in 1988-89, said there’s reason for enthusiasm. The Sto-Rox High graduate has put together several games in the area, including two in Pennsylvania. One was his alma mater, Sto-Rox versus Langley at Sto-Rox Stadium, and the other was a Mercer County All-Star game, in which Hickory, Farrell and Sharpsville teamed up against Sharon, West Middlesex and Reynolds at Brookfield High School in Ohio, prior to a Hubbard-Brookfield high school game.

Bishop said he chooses the stadium based on which team shows the most interest, and it also depends on whether the school OKs the use of the facility. Some schools are skeptical, Bishop said, but once they realize the game is legit and not a scam, they start to help out.

“They get a portion of the gate proceeds and they get concessions,” Bishop said. “So it’s a good deal for the school district. It’s new to everyone, so some people are reluctant.”

With other nearby schools, like Brookfield and Hubbard, already taking part in the games, the events are starting to pick up the pace — thus the constant charging of his phone). Bishop said he expects nearly all of the scheduled matchups in the New Castle area to take place. The tentative games are as follows: New Castle vs. Grove City, Laurel vs. Slippery Rock, Neshannock vs. Union, Shenango vs. Mohawk and Ellwood City vs. Riverside. All are to be played during a four-day span from Nov. 24-28 at sites to be determined.

“Lawrence and Beaver County, I expect, will have good turnouts once people find out a little more about it,” Bishop said.

One of the attractions is the equipment, which is provided by Alumni Football USA. The pads are the same ones used in the movie “The Blind Side,” according to Bishop. But there’s more to it than specialized gear. The organization offers security, a medical staff, announcers, a working scoreboard and music operators. Participants are asked to have medical insurance to play.

DeCarbo said he’s a little worried about being injured, but the idea of being part of a team again — one that’s comprised of generations of players — will undoubtedly keep him on the field.

“They could carry me off the field,” he said. “I just want to survive. I’m not going out there to light the world on fire, I just can’t help but imagine what it would be like to put a helmet on again.”

Players can expect to pay between $75 and $100, with cheaper prices given to those who sign up in advance. It may or may not be worth their while. Bishop said some crowds have reached the thousands, while others weren’t close to that. The real novelty, though, is the chance to strap on a helmet one last time. The thought alone brings goosebumps to DeCarbo.

“Just the general idea of 20 years of Shenango football players, it’s exciting,” he said. “But to be part of a team again, part of the guys, that’s what I want.”

Bishop hopes DeCarbo isn’t alone in those thoughts — even if it means a phone bill that’s through the roof.

(For more information or to sign up, call Robert Bishop at (724) 456-3000 or visit www.alumnifootballusa.com)
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