When our sports editor asked me this week for a quote on what the Rotary Bowl — the regular season-ending football game between Hillsboro and McClain that has been played since 1985 — means to both schools’ communities, it took me a while to come up with an answer, largely because I do not look at all things the way I once did.
In the bigger scheme of life, a high school football game doesn’t mean much. But if you are involved in the game, a parent of a kid involved in the game, or just a sports fan, well, it can mean a lot. When one of my sons was senior and caught a touchdown pass, threw a touchdown pass, had an interception, and had a long rushing touchdown for Hillsboro called back in a Rotary Bowl game in Greenfield, it would be accurate to say that I was more than a little proud.
In my office I have postgame picture from that game — courtesy of a kind local sports writer — with my son in his grass-stained football gear, holding the Rotary Bowl trophy high above his head with a big grin on his face, and his teammates reaching up to touch the trophy after a 28-27 victory. It is a sweet picture, and a wonderful reminder of good times gone by.
But I have been on the other side of the fence, too. The year before, when the same son was a junior and his two best buddies were seniors playing their last high school football game, I saw the literal tears flowing down all three faces after they lost the Rotary Bowl on their home field, 28-15.
Although I never played football after junior high, I have my own memories of McClain vs. Hillsboro contests.
During my junior year in high school, both McClain and Hillsboro finished the regular season 1-17, and our only wins came against each. As luck would have it, we drew McClain for the first game in the sectional tournament. I played poorly and we lost. It was not a good way to finish a season.
There was the time I won an individual South Central Ohio League 880-yard run title in Greenfield as a senior in 1979. My Indians also won the team title that year, the first time they had done so since 1956 when my dad was a senior and also won the 880. That was some pretty good stuff.
On the other hand, there was my eighth grade year. In basketball, I scored two points for the Tigers (yes, I shot at the wrong basket), in that little old gym that’s still in use today. I could take you over there and show you exactly where I was standing when it dawned on me what everyone was laughing about. Then that spring, in a track meet at Greenfield, I got beat by a girl in the hurdles. Her name was Sandy Hamilton. For the record, a Greenfield person was picking who finished in what place, and would have swore I beat her by a half step.
But, sometimes athletic memories get jaded, and years later when I worked at the Greenfield Daily Times with Sandy’s sister, Teresa, Sandy came in the office one day. She assured me that my memory of that long-ago race was mistaken.
I have worked in both communities and have covered both schools’ football games on countless occasions. I was there for the first Rotary Bowl in 1985, and I was on the sidelines reporting again two years ago. Greenfield was going through some rough times in football, and they came into that 2016 matchup as an underdog. It appeared late in the contest that the Tigers had the win locked way, but Hillsboro made a miraculous comeback to pull off a 43-40 triumph, and I can truly tell you I felt heartsick for the Greenfield kids.
This year’s Rotary Bowl carries extra weight. If Hillsboro wins, it will clinch a share of the Frontier Athletic Conference championship, its first football title in 20 years, then move on to the state playoffs. Then the Indians will have a chance to do something no Highland County football team has ever done — win a playoff game.
Hillsboro is 0-6 all-time in the playoffs. In 1992, the Indians lost 31-14 to Chaminade Julienne, in 1994 they lost 35-0 to London, in 1995 they lost 49-21 to London, in 1996 they lost 7-3 to Jackson, in 1998 they lost 47-13 to Hamilton Badin, and in 2005 they lost 56-0 to Columbus DeSales.
The Tigers have never made it to playoffs.
But, for the record, McClain’s football past outshines Hillsboro’s. When both teams were playing in the SCOL from the year the league started in 1923, McClain captured league titles in 1924, 1938, 1940, 1941, 1944, 1945, 1953, 1954, 1957, 1958, 1959 and 1960. They have not won any title since.
In all that time, Hillsboro won an SCOL football title in 1930, then tied for one 1988. The Indians won titles in the weaker Southern Buckeye Conference in 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997 and 1998. They have not won any title since.
By the time this column hits the newsstands, Friday’s game will have already been decided. One team will be elated, the other will feel ill.
But trust me, fellas, neither feeling will last long. Four decades down the road, when your waistline has expanded and your hair is mostly gray like mine, about all you’ll remember is the fun of it all — just like I have while writing this column.
Reach Jeff Gilliland at 937-402-2522.