Summer died Thursday. There is no funeral, just cheerleaders and bands and sweat and bruises. Moms are screaming, “Kill ’em.”
Because tonight, Friday night, is the start of high school football season.
“Northwestern!” screamed the fry cook at Red’s Grill Thursday as the clock struck noon, and the bells from Park Baptist Church a few doors down Rock Hill’s Main Street proved it.
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Nobody ever yelled “Sushi’s up!” at Red’s, the oldest continuously operated restaurant in a city that loves its football. There is nothing like eating a Red’s cheeseburger – loaded with onions, slaw, mustard and pickles, wrapped in genuine wax paper and tin foil – on the way to a Friday night high school football game.
So what if your hands slip off the wheel.
Red’s and high school football games are among the few places in York County where convicted felons and pastors sit on the same benches. At the same time the cook finished an order Thursday, the door was held open for a customer with good manners by a guy who served two years in the federal joint for bank fraud.
Nobody cared, because it is Red’s, where all are equal and the Elvis poster points to the men’s room.
And it is football season.
All 32 people crowded into Red’s were asked who would win Friday night when Northwestern High School faces off with cross-state rival Byrnes High School at District Three Stadium in a nationally televised game.
“Northwestern!” declared all but a few. A couple of others said they didn’t know. And one lady with guts squeaked, “Byrnes.”
That woman claimed to be “a Bearcat from Rock Hill High,” then hid so flying dishes and frying pans did not crack her skull.
Nobody had to be asked if the question was about football, because summer was dead – and nobody mourned its passing.
“Every kid on my bus knows about high school football, whether they are a boy or a girl,” said Ronnie Aiton, a lay minister who drives a refurbished school bus as part of his “Kids for Jesus” ministry. Aiton chewed a cheeseburger. It had slaw, with extra on the side to boot.
“Anybody roots for Byrnes, they best have a ride outta town,” said the bus driver for Jesus. “But if they are for Byrnes, they ain’t gettin’ on my bus.”
South Pointe and York and Nation Ford open at home tonight, too. Rock Hill is on the road.
Football here is not sport. It is more like religion, a culture of scarred knuckles on Mill Hill descendants. It is tough guys. It is pickups with a bench seat for putting your arm around your best girl. It is love and caring and loyalty. It is booster clubs and the flag corps at halftime and bragging how your daddy played on the same field.
In Chester County, Chester travels a dozen miles east on S.C. 9 to play rival Lewisville in Richburg.
Chester, population 5,593, is “city.” Richburg, population 267, is country.
Still, a couple thousand people or more will show up for the game between the Cyclones and the Lions tonight. Is there another place on earth where the population will jump tenfold for a football game?
Likely, no. Just here.
Cousins will play each other. Not kissin’ cousins, either. Cousins that smash their momma’s sister’s son right in the mouth.
Those who cannot be in Richburg tonight cannot watch the game on TV. Parking at Lewisville High is in the lot if you get there early, in the grass if not – along the side of the highway if you are late. If you are lucky, the guys from the volunteer fire department might let you climb a ladder for a better view.
But anyone can tune into WRBK-FM – 90.3 on your radio dial – and hear Carlisle Roddey, the radio voice of Chester High since Moses played quarterback for Egypt High School and Ramses played for Cairo. That’s 44 years.
You know summer is officially done when you hear Roddey, whose day job is Chester County supervisor, drawl, “Tell ya momma ya comin’ home late, because this ball game here between the roarin’ Lions of Lewisville and your mighty Chester Cyclones might burn down the barn!”
Roddey had back surgery this summer, but he told all those doctors and nurses – and anyone else who would listen – that his recovery would have to fit into the football schedule.
“I told my wife a couple a weeks ago, ‘Lois, I’m going to heaven two weeks from Friday,’ ” Roddey said. “And Lois looks at me quick as a fox and says, ‘You are not dyin’ on me, are you?’
“I told her, ‘I’m heading to the closest thing to heaven I know here on this earth – the press box to call out a Chester High School football game.’ ”