By ZACH McFARREN
When I was in high school, I was terrible at football, and really just about every other sport I attempted to play. I was more of a “participant” than I was a productive member of any team. My football career came to a merciful end after my freshman year, and I have never regretted not playing. Despite my name and my lineage, the pigskin was not a friend of mine, nor was I a fan it.
Although I did not inherit my grandpa’s or my dad’s knowledge of or ability to play football, what I did inherit from both of them is a streak of unapologetic emotional reactions to those who give their all to a given endeavor. I find inspiration, authenticity and beauty in anyone who sacrifices themselves for the greater good of those around them.
Throughout the fall, I was moved by a team of young men who performed as a unit and found success on several different levels. Some may have viewed the 2019 Bulldogs as an afterthought when considering who would be in contention for a league title. Seven games and an unblemished record in the WCAL later, these boys found themselves standing alone as league champions.
The speed and athleticism that Dalton ran out on both sides of the ball was often overwhelming to the opposition, and several scores reflected exactly what the game produced. Not all teams were willing to fold so easily, however.
A midseason matchup against Smithville tested the resolve of the young Bulldog team. A back-and-forth contest came down to the final possession with Smithville looking to spoil Dalton’s perfect campaign. A defensive stand on fourth down turned the Smithies away as Dalton earned a hard fought 33-30 victory.
Hillsdale visited Dalton with a similar mindset as Smithville. A much-anticipated contest with league implications turned out to be as advertised. Another three-point victory guaranteed the Dawgs a share of the WCAL crown with two league games left to play.
Victories are just one way to determine success. How players react in the face of adversity is another. While visiting Waynedale, Dalton pulled out a 62-56 victory, but in this case the score may not have been a true indicator of how the contest played out. Our boys were calm in the midst of chaos, and to paraphrase Rudyard Kipling, they took a step toward being men by keeping their heads while all about them, people were losing theirs.
Mother nature was the victor in an early-season game when Fairless visited Dalton. After numerous weather delays, the powers that be postponed the action. Fairless was forced to return to Dalton the following morning to finish the contest, which amounted to just over three minutes. The Dawgs came up on the short end, losing 41-28. In what must have been a difficult situation for coaches and players alike, Dalton made no excuses. They played the cards they were dealt. The loss was their only one during the regular season.
Dalton played four games this fall where the second-half clock ran continuously because they were ahead by 30 or more points. The effort and attitude of the young men gave no hint as to whether they were up by 30 or down by 30. They played with sportsmanship and character. They treated each opponent with respect and never underestimated the opposition. They carried themselves in a way that makes parents, coaches, teachers and everyday fans proud.
The final game of the season, a playoff loss to a talented Fort Frye team, gave the boys one more chance to showcase their ability and character. Once again, Dalton fought. Mistakes were made but did not define them. They played as a team. They played like the champions they are.
I am currently in my eleventh year as a teacher in the Dalton district. In that time, I have had the privilege to coach baseball, girls and boys basketball, and softball. In my time as a teacher and as a coach, I have seen the best of what Dalton has to offer in terms of students and athletes. The character. The demeanor. The kindness. The diligence. The overall regard for the wellbeing of their peers. In truth, it is a beautiful thing to witness, and I am made a better person because of the qualities that these young people display.
Admittedly, I am also sometimes envious of what our students and athletes are capable of. If this year’s football team has taught me anything, it is that talent, courage and grace has largely eluded me. I do not have the ability of Malone, Schlabach, Bidlack or Jarrett. I do not have the tenacity of Geiser, Knetzer, Oswald, Troyer or Baer. I do not hold the line like Ryder, Ramseyer, Lehman, Miller, Miller or Riggenbach. I lack the poise of a Horst or a Beatty or a Miller. And these young men are a small sample size of what exists not only on the football team, but in every student that walks through our halls on any given day.
Sure it’s cliche, but I do learn as much as I teach. I do benefit from what young people have to offer. I appreciate the relationships, the frustrations, the setbacks and the victories, large or small.
Do I think that Dalton is different? Yes. Am I biased? Certainly. But time and again the young people who make up the student population at Dalton Local Schools prove that they are cut from a different cloth. During the 2019 football season, I was honored to report on the young men and their success. With each game, they showed what it means to be a Bulldog. I only hope that I was able to capture that with each column while bringing some of the joy I experienced to those who read the stories.
Zack McFarren is a sportswriter for the Gazette & News, and covered his first Dalton High football season this year.