Volunteers support football teams for love of the game
CHARLESTON, W.Va. - As Capital High School's football team filed out of the locker rooms and onto Laidley Field, they passed two men who play an important role in their athletic lives.
One was their head coach, Jon Carpenter.
The other was Tony Harris, whose work with the team is less high profile but, from the looks of things, still appreciated. The boys nodded in his direction or nudged him on their way by, and some shouted greetings.
"I get to know them all pretty well," Harris said.
Harris is at every game Capital's football team plays and at practice every day. He loads and unloads equipment and generally helps out wherever he's needed. He runs through a checklist of tasks before the team ever hits the field. Carpenter calls him the "Director of Football Operations."
"He practically runs things," Carpenter said.
Officially, there's a substantial framework holding up most high school football teams - coaches, assistant coaches, athletic trainers who are employed by the school system. But many teams also are graced with a less official presence, those people who are there on their own time for love of the game and the team alone.
Harris has been doing this for decades, since he was a freshman at the old Charleston High School in 1981, before it merged with Stonewall Jackson to become Capital High. That's when he started hanging around football practices - he liked the sport and liked being around it - and the coach let him volunteer to help out and travel with the team.
He graduated in 1984 but never stopped coming to practices. Since then, he's seen the team through four head coaches, four state championships and countless student athletes. He's the institutional memory of the team.
"It's a lot of work," he said. "But it's just a joy being around the kids, around the coaching staff."
Carpenter sees Harris as an integral part of the team - he can't imagine doing his job without him.
"When you become head coach, you realize it's probably the loneliest job in the school system," Carpenter said. "He's worth his weight in gold because it doesn't matter if you go 0 and 10 or 10 and 0, he's here.
"He's like a security blanket; he's here for us no matter what."
At St. Albans High School, there's Alison Dalton, a junior and the team manager for the football team.
Dalton has been helping out with the team since her freshman year when she volunteered to take photos - her two passions, she says, are football and photography.
By her sophomore year, that volunteer work had morphed into a different role, with her on the sidelines. She was eventually appointed team manager, and every year she recruits a few friends to help out. This year, it's Destiny Edwards, a senior, and Rachel Hinzman, a junior.
Dalton and her cohort are at every game and every practice, keeping more than 70 football players in water and energy drinks.
That's a lot of water, and it's a big job.
They spend practices camped out on the side of the field, filling and refilling dozens of water bottles and delivering them to the players - a simple task, but they're almost constantly busy at it.
"The best feeling in the world is having all these filled up and being able to relax," Dalton said as she funneled water into a bottle. "And then they all charge over here thirsty, and we have to start all over again."
Because of this - and the constant practices, some after school, some early in the morning, bringing the girls to the football field before 8 a.m. during their summer vacation - the job isn't really glamorous.
"It's definitely harder than it looks. It gets stressful," Edwards said. "You really have to love it to do it."
Dalton is drawn to the field by a simple love of football - a passion instilled in her, she figures, by her father, as he watched endless football games throughout her childhood.
"Some girls at school tell me I'm so lucky because I get to be down here with the boys," Alison said and rolled her eyes. "It's not like that. These guys are all like my brothers."
They joke around together, and they're all pretty close. The girls say they feel like part of the team.
This year, Dalton thought about playing volleyball, but she couldn't manage playing a sport herself with the demanding football schedule.
"So I just couldn't do it," she said. "I knew I would miss this too much."
Contact writer Shay Maunz at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-4886.