Johnny Sheehan's roots as goalkeeper made him comfortable directing the teammates in front of him.
When it came time for a group of players from different eras to quickly form into a team for the Dallas High School Alumni Game in bitter, windy conditions on a Saturday morning two days after Thanksgiving, it was Sheehan who took charge.
Sheehan positioned his teammates, noting that the presence of three goalies might be useful against younger opponents. His light-hearted approach – hey, are you guys any good? he shouted to the high school players as they lined up – helped set the tone for the game's mood.
Sheehan, who settled into the stopper position while brothers Mike and Tim Raub shared goalie duties, was the most vocal player on the field, clearly having fun now that he's become part of an annual gathering that has lasted about a quarter of a century.
While he took a break on the sideline, however, Sheehan finished talking about the game by pointing out an important serious side to the day. The game began under John McCafferty, a native of Scotland who started the Dallas High School program in 1981 and is one of those most responsible for the Back Mountain being at the center of soccer's development in northeastern Pennsylvania.
He's pretty much the reason these guys in blue have the chance they do every year, Sheehan said of McCafferty, who immediately turned the Mountaineers into a championship program that reached the state final and two other state quarterfinals under his guidance. The roots in the program started with John and the life lessons he taught every one of us, even after he finished coaching.
It was McCafferty's illness and death in November 2010 that sparked a boost in interest in the Alumni Game, including making it a mandatory part of Sheehan's plans.
Attendance spiked in the past two years, leading to one of the two adjustments that booster club vice president and alumni game committee chair Kathy Murray had to make in this year's t-shirt orders.
Murray increased the order of light and dark blue t-shirts, used as jerseys for the game, to 60. She also adjusted e the order for XXL, which allowed for necessary use over sweatshirts and/or for adjustments to the effects of age.
Murray said alumni not part of the extensive contact list the club manages can add themselves by passing along information to head coach Chris Scharff or any booster club officer.
The turnouts have been better the past couple of years, said Tim Raub, while visiting on the sideline with Steve McCafferty, son of the former coach. We're getting some of the older guys who are more than just a couple of years removed from school.
The alumni forms one team, with the assistance of younger legs from an occasional son or daughter who joins in the action. Scharff is also on their side despite being a Lake-Lehman graduate who went against some of the players in the early years of the rivalry between the two schools.
The high school team forms the opposition, with a few recent graduates and players who will join the program in the near future rounding out the roster.
Sheehan makes it part of his holiday weekend. He returns from his home in State College to visit family and long-time friend Matt Lipo for Thanksgiving. There is a Friday night reunion for the soccer alumni on the same weekend each year, followed by the Saturday morning game.
We reminisce for a while on Friday night, then come out here and have a good run out for two hours, Raub said.
Players and parents from the program continue that reminiscing as they arrive minutes before the start.
The game, despite being informal without officials, is well played.
The alumni even fought off whatever rust was in its collective game to score first about 10 minutes into this year's contest.
We've got to get them early while we still have energy, Raub said. Then, we bunker down and hide, put everyone back and let the young kids just play around with it.
When that doesn't work, there is another way for the alumni to come out winners on their annual trip down Memory Lane.
We go to a shootout at the end every year, Raub said. We just say ‘the alumni win.' Whether it's legal or not, we always win.