Senior Stories

Football Revival

Fall is one of my favorite seasons because I love football. The problem
with being a Geezer living on a limited income is that I can’t afford the
tickets for the big games anymore.

I fell in love with football when I was a young reporter and got to work
the sidelines in the famous Florida-Georgia games and the Gator Bowl itself in
Jacksonville, Fla. Several years later, on my second trip through
Jacksonville, as a pilot I flew film on Saturdays from games in Georgia back
to the paper in Jacksonville to get “real color” on the front page by game’s
end.

I especially loved the days when I was a sports editor for the Associated
Press and had a ringside seat in the press boxes of the Big 10, Big 8 and
Missouri Valley conferences. Now, that was living.

I also enjoyed my days of going to Miami Dolphin games when I lived in
South Florida – first in the old Orange Bowl and later in the big, new stadium
up on the Dade-Broward county line, by whatever name it was being called at
the time.

Now I live a stone’s throw from Tampa and just don’t have the $100 or more
that you’ll spend attending a Tampa Bay Buccaneer game in Raymond James
Stadium in the bay area city.

Of course, there’s always television and I will be the first to agree that
you can see the game better on the tube than you can in the stadium. But for
some reason the hot dogs at home just don’t taste the same. Being a part of
the football crowd is just part of football to me.

So, this year I went looking for a way to enjoy a little football from the
field and I was delighted to find it in a school in which my son-in-law is the
athletic director. It turned out to be six-man football, something I had not
seen in more than 50 years when some of the small high schools where I grew up
in rural Ohio played the game.

I can now drive up to the field, take out my folding chair, carry it out
to the 30-yard line and sit right down and enjoy a real, live football game. I
pick up a $2 hot dog at the concession stand and, even if they don’t charge
the traditional $5 admission to the game, make a little donation to the school
athletic fund for the opportunity they have given me to enjoy real, live
football for a few minutes each week.

Six-man football was developed in 1934 by Chester, Neb., High School coach
Stephen Epler as a way for small high schools to field a football team during
the Great Depression.

Six-man football has produced some notable players over the years. Jack
Pardee, who played in the 1950s at Christoval High School in Texas played and
coached in the National Football League. Chicago Bear Ed Sprinkle played
six-man football at Tuscola, TX, High School in 1939.

Six-man football has some variations from the regular 11-man game we are
most familiar with in this country. Six-man is played on an 80-by-40 yard
field as opposed to the 11-man 100-by-53-1/3 yard American football field.
It takes 15 yards to make a first down in six-man as opposed the 10 yards
required to move the sticks in 11-man football.

In six-man, all six players are eligible pass receivers. On offense, three
linemen are required on the line of scrimmage at the start of the play. The
person to whom the ball is snapped cannot run the ball past the line of
scrimmage. However, if the ball is tossed to another player, that player can
run or throw the ball and the person to whom the ball was snapped is still an
eligible receiver. All forward passes to the player who snapped the ball – the
center – must travel at least one yard in flight.

Scoring is the same as in 11-man football, with the exceptions being on
the point after touchdown attempt and the field goal. A point-after kick is
worth two points, while a conversion made by running or passing the ball is
worth one point; this is the opposite of 11-man football. In addition, a field
goal is worth four points instead of three.

Six-man football is a fast moving contact sport. You’ll see a lot of
on-side kicks and many of them work. Kick-offs are from the 30-yard line. For
kick-offs out-of-bounds, teams have three options: 1) five-yard penalty and
re-kick; 2) take the ball 25 yards from previous kick-off spot; or 3) take
possession at out-of-bounds spot.

All though a contact sport like 11-man football, six-man players get some
added protection from two rules: No Blocking below the waist at anytime, and;
no coming back to make a blind block on a defensive player following the snap.
Violations of either rule will result in a personal foul and 15-yard penalty
that looms very large on the shorter football field on which six-man is
played. Multiple violations will result in a player being ejected from the
game and banned from the game field.

The average six-man team has a dozen or so players and the game is a fast
one resulting in many high scores. The game, depending upon where it is played
and in which conference the team is playing, has a mercy rule. When one team
gets 30 – 45 in some areas – or more points ahead of the other, the clock is
never stopped. The game is played out in fast forward, so to speak.

I had a big time this fall sidelining at some six-man games. My
son-in-law’s team made it to the quarterfinals in the state championship
playoffs.

Many states, like Florida, have state six-man football associations that
have web pages and can provide you with teams and schedules in your area. Also
there are several Christian school six-man leagues so don’t overlook your
local faith-based educational units when searching for a lively, little
football game to enjoy.

For me, six-man football has been an interesting revival of live football.
It appears to be a growing adaptation of one of America’s favorite sports.

Life is good. Even with cancer.

Dave Whitney is a retired journalist and adventurer who has won many writing awards. He was born and raised in central Ohio, attended school in Missouri, served in the US Army Security Agency, and migrated to Florida a half century ago. Author of four books, he is a former Associated Press writer/editor and has been nominated three times for the Pulitzer Prize during his writing career. As editor and founder of the Free Press newspapers in the Florida Keys he was the first publisher to pick up Frank Kaiser’s “Suddenly Senior” column when it entered syndication. Whitney currently resides in Lakeland, Fla., after living 25 years in the Florida Keys.

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