Revisiting the Glory Days

By Staff

Athletic Management, 14.4, June/July 2002,

Seeking to link the present with the glorious past, Indiana (Pa.) High School Athletic Director Pat Snyder has developed a successful event that has boosted the spirits of both student-athletes and the local community. Three times in the last five years, Snyder has invited members of past Indiana High School football teams to return for a home game, be feted at a spaghetti dinner, and speak to the current players.

"I'd seen it done by some of the big college teams, so I thought we'd try it here,"Snyder says. "We're a small school, and we've struggled on the field recently. I wanted to do whatever we could to try to spin some positive notes for football.

"Our kids might not know our school's history,"he continues, "but this event shows we have some tradition and that our school can win." In planning the event, Snyder looks back at his school's history to see when they had good football seasons. He also looks for a special number, such as a 25th or 50th anniversary.

"In 1997, we brought back players from our undefeated 1947 team, then in 2000, we had the 1950 team,"Snyder says. "Last fall, we invited the players from our 1976 team."

Each event has worked in a similar fashion. In the spring, Snyder runs ads in the local media announcing that he's looking for members of a specific team. "I also try to find a contact right here in town for each team's class--one for the seniors, one for the juniors, and another for the sophomores--to pass along notice of the event,"he says. "And a month before the event, we run more ads in the paper stating which people we're still looking for."

Snyder reports that 18 players came back from the 1950 team, 14 players returned from the 1947 team, and nearly 30 players and four coaches from the 1976 team attended. "About half the members of each team still live in the area, but some came from as far away as North Carolina and Michigan,"Snyder says. "Some of them made a real big effort to get back."

Snyder usually picks a game early in the season for the event. "It's too hectic to try to do it during the first home game, but the second home game usually works,"he says. "It's still likely to be a nice warm evening, whereas if we did it later in the season, it might be pretty chilly."

When the special night rolls around, the returning alumni meet in the school lobby, where they're given name tags and a bag of mementos, including copies of the game program, the school newspaper, and a miniature football. The principal then escorts them around the school and shows them some of the new facilities such as the computer lab and the television production room.

"Some of the players haven't been back in more than 20 years, so we try to show them what's going on at our school from an education standpoint,"Snyder says.

After posing for a group photo, the alumni attend a spaghetti dinner with the boosters. "The band boosters arrange the dinner, and I coordinate our event with them,"Snyder says. "We buy meal tickets for the alumni players and their families to attend, and they usually have their own part of the cafeteria set aside."

Around 7 p.m., the alumni head down to the locker room, and one of them gives a pregame speech to the current team. "I leave it up to them what to talk about, but it's been awesome,"Snyder says. "I especially remember the quarterback from the 1950 team. He talked about what it was like to be undefeated, and how it was time for the current players to start a streak of their own.

He really had the kids going--when he was done, they all jumped up and high-fived, then roared out of the locker room."

Last fall was another success. "The running back from the 1976 team, who's now attending the Military War College in Washington, D.C., talked about the importance of teamwork,"Snyder says. "He stood up on the bench in the locker room with his buzz haircut and gave a great speech on the importance of football and coming back to be with your friends."

After the pregame speech, the alumni players head over to the field, where they're introduced to loud applause from the crowd. Some are interviewed for the local radio broadcast during halftime.

Snyder hasn't yet thought about trying team reunions with other sports. "We have an alumni basketball game in our holiday tournament, and the boosters have developed that,"he says.

But so far, the football team reunions have been a win-win situation on both sides. "The kids love it because it teaches them about our school's tradition,"Snyder says. "And after each event, I've gotten nice letters from the returning players, who have thanked us for reuniting them with their old teammates.

"It's a simple idea,"he continues, "but it's been a good influence on the team and the community."