You hear coaches all the time talking about how kids won't fully understand or enjoy their high school accomplishments until many years after their graduation.
Case in point will be Friday night at Fleming Field when two of the best Tiger football teams in school history will re-unite and be honored for their on-field accomplishments.
The 1977 Tiger squad is still the only team in school history to finish the season with a perfect 10-0 record. That team also won the OVAC title, but missed out on the postseason because the OHSAA only took two teams per region back then.
The 1982 squad, finished the season 8-2 and gave Ty Fleming the first of his five conference titles
Both teams will be introduced and recognized at halftime tonight during the Tigers' game against Wheeling Central. Ironically, the 2012 Tigers are still undefeated and are currently leading the OVAC title chase.
Saying the 1977 season came out of nowhere might still be an understatement.
The Tigers' senior class on the 1977 squad experienced little success coming up through the ranks. They were winless as eighth graders and won just once as fresman.
"The fact that we were so bad when we were young is one of the biggest things that made that season so special," said current Tigers' assistant coach and quarterback of the 1977 squad Gregg Bonar. "We were just determined to improve on that."
The Tigers finished the 1976 season with a 4-6 record, but according to Bonar very few of the juniors played on that team.
It was in the opening game against Woodsfield that the Tiger senior class began to realize that it had a chance for a special season.
"We beat Woodsfield in the last minute, and I was so excited at how competitive we were," Bonar said. "We knew then that we would fight until the end in every game."
It turned out that every game was a fight for the Tigers of head coach Steve "Whitey" Magyar.
The Tigers had to come from behind twice against Barnesville in week 10 to cap the perfect campaign with a 15-12 victory. The week prior, against River, Shadyside wrapped up the OVAC title with a 6-3 victory.
"Teams were all good back then," Bonar said. "They just beat up on each other. River, for instance, had a win over Ferry and a last-second loss to a Tim Spencer-led St. Clairsville team. Bridgeport had a lot of great players like Craig Miller, Rich Brothers, Rudy Vavrock, Kelly Rine, Rick Goodrich and Mike Montelone. Barnesville was 6-3 when we played them with a loss to River."
The Tigers pitched four shutouts that season. They blanked Stanton, St. John, Linsly and Bridgeport behind a stout defense, which was led by defensive MVP Mark Buzek, who will be flying in from Florida for this evening's festivities.
"That team's resiliency is what sticks out to me," Buzek said. "The way we looked into the face of desperation and then beat the snot out of it was impressive. I thought the bookends of our season were our defining moments. We just simply never gave up."
Buzek remembers the final seconds ticking off in the win against the Pilots like it was yesterday and still gets emotional when he thinks about it.
"My greatest memory isn't one that will probably mean anything to anyone else," Buzek said. "I was 17 years old and I had never seen my father cry. He was tough, but after the River game, when we clinched the OVAC crown, he came down onto the field, hugged me and I saw him cry for the first time. I'll never forget that."
While it might be tough to fathom in today's age of 192 playoff teams in the Buckeye State, the Tigers missed out on the postseason. Only two teams per region qualified.
"It was different then," Bonar said. "Each game was so sacred because there were no second chances. If you lost to River, everyone knew that and you had to live with it for the rest of your life."
Other senior standouts on that squad included Greg Andes, who had two game-winning touchdown catches during the season; Mark Fijalkowski, who played collegiately at Waynesburg and West Liberty State College; Jim Peal, who played at Miami of Ohio and Rusty Patt.
Another key cog in that team's success was Pat Miller, who was a junior on that team. Miller, who was inducted into the OVAC Hall of Fame in 2011 and now resides in Hilliard, will be returning for the reunion as well this evening. He's actually missing his son's Austin's game at Bradley High School for the event.
"That undefeated season ranks up there with anything I've ever accomplished," Miller said. "It was just a phenomenal team accomplishment. We came together, as a team, in the pre-season scrimmages, we had great leadership from our coaches and the meshing of the talents and personalities of the seniors, juniors and even a couple of sophomores proved that anything is possible if you come together as one."
Neither Bonar nor Fijalkowski is exactly sure how many players are coming back this evening, but both know the story-telling and reminiscing will extend long into the wee hours of Satuday morning.
The balance of the senior class included: Kirk Pittman, Steve Rosser, Brent Crall, Mike Crisp, Rich Francis, John McNamara and Rick Booth.
Magyar was assisted by the late John Krupa, Terry Snively, who went on to be a highly successful head coach at River, and current Parkersburg South head coach Jon Bolen.
THE 1982 squad, which was Fleming's third at the helm of his alma mater, also had a thing for the dramatic.
According to current Shadyside High principal John Haswell, who was a senior on that team, the Tigers found themselves trailing the Pilots, in Week 10, by a 6-0 score with just five seconds left.
Fleming, who in two tours of duty at the helm guided the Tigers to three regional titles, called for a quick pitch.
Lineman Erik Krupa pulled on the play, delivered a block and Mike Donahue waltzed into the end zone for the game-tying touchdown. Jim Matsakis, whose older brother Manny was a key contributor on the 1977 squad, booted the PAT for the OVAC title.
"That was the first of many great nights at Fleming Field for Coach Fleming," Haswell said.
Fleming will be on hand this evening. He's calling the game on radio and will take part in the reunion.
Haswell has confirmed that the following players are returning this evening: Joe Karkowski, Steve Heslop, Mike Miller, Greg Williams, Krupa, Paul Boczek, Jeff Albright, Matt Merryman, Dan Shepherd, Jim Jarrett and Rome Ripley.
The assistant coaches for that squad were Doug Campbell, Larry Apicella and John Grinch.
While the current Tigers won't have any memories, except for what they've been told, of these teams, there's a chance 30 years from now the second-ever 10-0 team could be back for a reunion. At that point, the accomplishments of this season will seem even more important - and probably enjoyable - than they do currently.
That's just the way life goes.
Staskey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org