Bryson City Seasons — Swain County Football (Part 2)

This is from the twelfth chapter from my best-selling book, Bryson City Seasons, which is the sequel to Bryson City TalesI hope that you’ll enjoy going back to Bryson City with me each week, and that if you do, you’ll be sure to invite your friends and family to join us.


It was already getting dark, but the state-of-the-art stadium lights illuminated the field like day. And for a die-hard football fan, there’s nothing quite like the feeling of walking out onto the cool turf on a crisp autumn evening. The crowds gathering in the stands, the smoke from the grills at the hamburger stands, the band warming up. I drank in the sights.

As I walked onto the field, a thousand memories flooded my soul and my arms looked like gooseflesh. My dad and I would go to LSU games together in Baton Rouge, where opponents had nicknamed the stadium “Death Valley.” I not only can still name the heroes of my youth but also can remember most of their jersey numbers and some of their most outstanding plays. There, too, games were almost always played at night—and the turf was and always has been thick and luscious.

I felt at home. The kids from both teams were already on the field warming up. What had surprised me during my first fall in Bryson City—the visitor and home stands nearly at capacity a full hour before the game—was no longer a surprise. Some fans were even beginning to stake claim on the grassy mountainside. And all along the chain-link fence around the field the men were two to three rows deep.

I dropped off my medical kit in the locker room, as was my habit, and made my way through the crowd on the track in front of the home stands.

The way to the press box was a small asphalt road from one end of the stadium up and behind the box. I climbed the steep slope and made my way inside. Before each game I went up to visit with Gary Ayers, the morning DJ for WBHN, our local radio station; Bob Eldridge, one of our two local dentists and the stadium announcer; and Pete Lawson, the editor of the local paper, the Smoky Mountain Times. They never failed to give me a hard time about something. That night they were in a mood to kid me about my infamous first “home delivery.”

It started with Gary. “Your bovine patient still kicking?” he asked, adding, “Good thing you didn’t have to do calf CPR.”

“Yeah,” piped in Pete, “that would have been a mooooving story for my readers.” They all rolled in laughter. I blushed, then chuckled along with them.

On the way back down to the field, I passed Preston and Joe Benny, who were guarding their spots on the fence at about the 40- yard line on the home side. This was just far enough down to avoid having their view blocked by the players on the sidelines, yet close enough to yell any needed encouragement to particular coaches or kids.

When I got to the sideline, Rick was there.

“Well, welcome to your first home game, partner!”

“I knew the stadium was big; I just had no idea it was this big.

I’m not sure we had this many folks for a game at my college.” Rick had attended the University of Delaware for his undergraduate work. “And I can’t believe the other doctors wouldn’t want to be here on the sideline.”

“Me either. But I’m glad they don’t. Let’s go check in with Coach Dietz.”

He had no medical concerns to report to us about any of the kids but asked, as he did before every game, “You got some Tums in your medical kit?”

“I do.”

“Keep ’em handy for me?”

“Will do, Coach.”

As he walked away, I noticed Rick looking at the other team. “Man, Walt, look at the size of their boys compared to ours!”

“Rick, Coach Dietz is fond of saying, ‘It’s not the size of the man in the fight but the size of the fight in the man.’ I suspect our boys will do just fine.”

After warm-ups were complete, the teams retreated to their locker rooms. Each coach had his kids in a small group, reviewing last-minute details and asking and answering questions. Each kid had been taught how to “scout” his opposing players during warm-ups and would share his observations on any apparent injuries. Several of the junior varsity coaches who had scouted the opponent in previous games and during warm-ups would go from group to group to share their surveillance findings.

A referee entered the room. “Coach, I’ll need your captains in two minutes.”

“Okay,” Coach Dietz responded. Then he clapped his hands, and the entire locker room grew silent as each boy looked at their coach as he walked among them. “Men, we’ve all worked like crazy to prepare for tonight. There’re lots of folks who’ve spent their hard-earned money to come to see you. They want to see you do your best. I know you will.”

He paused to spit out some dip in a cup he was carrying.

“Seniors, this here’s your last home opener. You’ve never lost to these boys, and they’ve come here to give you a whippin’. I tell ya right now, that’s what they’re here to do. If’n they beat ya, their season is a success and they’ll have braggin’ rights till next year.”

He was quiet for a full half minute as he walked slowly among his boys, looking into the eyes of each one. Then he continued. “If’n ya let ’em whip ya, they’ll be talkin’ down about Swain County—you can bet on that.”

He walked back through the assembled team to the front door. “Men, this stadium’s your house. You don’t let these folks down. You don’t let your parents down. Most of all, you don’t let yourselves down. This is your house. Get out there and let’s defend it.”

The team erupted to its feet and moved toward the door—a surging, chanting, testosterone-laden mass.

“What a speech!” Rick shouted to me. I smiled and thought,

Classic Boyce Dietz. No wonder these kids and his assistant coaches love him!

The team tore through the paper banner, fire extinguishers went off, the band played the fight song, and the stands erupted. I thought I could feel the ground trembling—the sound was deaf- ening. Rick and I walked toward the field. “Welcome to Swain County Football!” I shouted. He smiled and patted me on the back. Together we jogged onto the field.

At halftime the score was tied. The halftime sermon was even more intense and motivational than the pregame speech.

The third quarter was scoreless. The team and the crowd seemed to be waning. Their size and strength seemed to be wearing down our little guys.

Gary Lackey was our new quarterback for the year—a lanky fellow who, aside from tight end Derek Robinson, was the tallest player on the team. He could really throw the ball, but there wasn’t a lot of muscle on his bones. When he would run and get hit, I would wince.

After one hit, Rick bent over to me and commented, “I hope they don’t break him!”

But then, in one horrible play, they almost did.



  1. The Murder (Part 1)(Part 2)(Part 3)
  2. The Arrival (Part 1)(Part 2)
  3. The Hemlock Inn (Part 1)(Part 2)
  4. The Grand Tour (Part 1)(Part 2)
  5. The Interview (Part 1)(Part 2)(Part 3)
  6. Settling In (Part 1)(Part 2)
  7. First-Day Jitters (Part 1)(Part 2)
  8. Emergency (Part 1)(Part 2)
  9. The Delivery (Part 1)(Part 2)
  10. The “Expert” (Part 1)(Part 2)
  11. The Trial (Part 1)(Part 2)
  12. Shiitake Sam (Part 1)(Part 2)
  13. Wet Behind the Ears (Part 1)(Part 2)(Part 3)
  14. Lessons in Daily Practice (Part 1) — Anal Angina(Part 2)(Part 3)(Part 4)
  15. White Lies
  16. The Epiphany (Part 1)(Part 2)
  17. Becoming Part of the Team (Part 1)(Part 2)
  18. Monuments (Part 1)(Part 2)
  19. My First Home Victory (Part 1)(Part 2)
  20. Fisher of Men (Part 1)(Part 2)
  21. Fly-Fishing (Part 1); (Part 2)
  22. Something Fishy (Part 1)(Part 2)
  23. A Good Day at the Office
  24. An Evening to Remember
  25. Another New Doc Comes to Town
  26. ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas (Part 1)(Part 2)
  27. A Surprising Gift
  28. The New Year (Part 1)(Part 2)
  29. The Home Birth (Part1)(Part 2); (Part 3)
  30. The Showdown (Part1)(Part 2); (Part 3)
  31. The Initiation (Part 1); (Part 2); (Part 3)
  32. Home at Last (Part 1); (Part 2); (Part 3)

© Copyright WLL, INC. 2017. This blog provides a wide variety of general health information only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment from your regular physician. If you are concerned about your health, take what you learn from this blog and meet with your personal doctor to discuss your concerns.

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