Old-timers football game for good causeOriginally Published December 23, 2012 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated December 21, 2012 at 2:48 p.m.
HEBER SPRINGS The young guys will try to avenge last year’s loss to the oldies when Heber Springs holds its annual old-timers football game on Jan. 19.
The full-pads, full-contact game, a fundraiser, has been played almost every year since at least the mid-1970s. Jackie McPherson, mayor of Heber Springs and an all-state defensive tackle for the Panthers in 1977, organized the game for 30 years before handing over the reins to Jacob McCormick, a 2000 HSHS graduate.
But McPherson will be playing again.
“I’ll probably be the oldest one at 54, or maybe Marvin Ogle, who’s 55,” the mayor said. “It’s just fun to strap on the pads and say you can still do it.
“I’m pushing that age where I may not need to do it much longer, but I still enjoy it. I’ll give it a shot again this year.”
He has played in every old-timers game since he graduated and remembers going to watch it as a child.
Spectators are encouraged. McPherson said that over the years, crowds had ranged from one — on a cold, rainy day — to nearly 600.
Besides the $25 donation to play, the only requirement for participants is that they either attended the school at any time or live in Cleburne County.
“We’ve had as many as 50 or 55 show up,” McPherson said. “Normally we’ll have at least 40. You don’t have to have been an athlete. A lot of kids didn’t play ball — they were not fast or not the right size, but then they grew. Now’s their chance to play.”
The game features 15-minute quarters, but the mayor admitted that sometimes in the second half, “everybody is so worn out we say, ‘Run the clock.’”
The only concession to the reality of age, gravity and the possibility of injury is no punts or kickoffs.
But there have been injuries, said Steve Janski, football coach and athletic director for the school.
“Yes sir, broken hand, broken foot and lots of bruises,” he said. “But they always seem to enjoy it.”
McPherson said every dime of the entry fee goes to the HSHS athletic department, which uses the money to buy shirts and shorts for current athletes.
Organizers seek sponsorships from area businesses, and that money goes to a local charity, which had not been decided upon at press time, McPherson said.
Organizers take whoever shows up and divide the group by age — the young team against the olds.
“For example, if we have 50, we’ll put the 25 oldest guys on one team and the 25 youngest on the other — wherever that midpoint break is,” McPherson said.
The 2013 game will be played at 3 p.m. on the high school field. HSHS coaches will pass out pads and officiate. Those wanting to play should show up at 1 p.m.
The more, the merrier, McPherson said.
“If you don’t get assigned a spot right off the bat, it won’t be long before somebody wants out, and you’ll get in,” he said. “There’s plenty of playing time for everyone. Lots of times we’re in the huddle trying to beg people to come in.”
Janski said it is “fun, fun, fun” to officiate the game.
“It’s comical at times, but it’s great to watch those guys go at it,” he said.
McPherson said some of the younger players get together and practice in advance.
“But the old guys just show up,” he said. “We always considered ourselves uncoachable. It doesn’t do any good for us to practice.”
Under Janski, the Panthers have been resurgent. They finished 11-1 in 2011, winning their first conference championship in 32 years. This fall, they finished 7-5 and reached the quarterfinals of the Class 4A state playoffs.
The good times have added to the aura of the old-timers game.
“Before, people really didn’t want to come back and play a football game,” McPherson said. “But now with the success, it’s been revitalized.”
Janski agreed that the school’s football success has carried over to many areas.
“I think that anytime your football team is competitive, it raises the other sports as well,” he said. “There is no doubt that if the football team is having a good year, the semester starts off with a lot of enthusiasm, and it carries over to the school and other sports for the rest of the year.”
Now, the old guys are hoping to build on their success of last year.
“It was a real sweet victory,” McPherson said. “They’d been handing it to us pretty good for the last five or six years.”
For more information about the game, contact McCormick at (501) 366-0143.
None Donna Stephens can be reached at .