Some very special alumni watched receivers and running backs for Perrysburg High School's 2012 football team jog into the end zone Friday night like they owned the place, scattering Sylvania Northview players who had begun practice drills before the teams faced off in the Yellow Jackets' homecoming game.
Members of the 1977 Northern Lakes League championship football team joined other Perrysburg alumni in the hospitality tent for their 35th reunion, the rain failing to dampen their spirits.
"It's just a fantastic opportunity to meet up with old friends and teammates," said Rod Mercer, of Hendersonville, Tenn., who played fullback, linebacker, and kicker that year.
It was Mercer who kicked the winning field goal with eight seconds to go in Perrysburg's 1977 homecoming game against Lake. The victory was bittersweet, he recalled, because teammate Scott Hetrick had been killed in a car crash the weekend before.
"This reunion is a memorial to those who we lost, and a memorial to the team," Mr. Mercer said.
The group assembled 35 years to the day after Scott's burial. He was recalled as "a fun-loving fella with the heart of a champion," the phrase inscribed on a stone placed at the foot of a red Bradford pear tree planted in the stadium.
"That was our theme, that's what we ran with, that's how we played," said Henry "Mac" Lehrer, of Huron, Ohio, who organized the reunion.
Karen Bakies, class of 1979, said the school lost other students to accidents that year, too, and Scott's death was another shock to the community.
"He was so well-liked, so well-known," she said.
Mrs. Bakies still lives in Perrysburg, two houses down from where she grew up, and she was on hand last night to watch her daughter, senior and varsity cheerleader Hannah Bakies, participate in the homecoming court.
Cheryl Chesney was homecoming queen in 1977, and she had dedicated that year's game to the memory of the classmates who had died, Mr. Lehrer said. She, too, was honored Friday night, after dying earlier this year from cancer.
Freshman Evan Comley, also a member of this year's court, waited under the tent with a red rose boutonniere pinned to his sweater. He is a safety and receiver on the freshman football team, and he grinned when he considered that he may be an alumnus some day, celebrating another championship season.
"It's pretty cool," he said.
When the varsity linemen came onto the field to warm up, alumni remarked on their size.
"These guys got big," Mr. Lehrer said, adding that his team had only two players who weighed 200 or more pounds.
Pat Aubry, team co-captain in 1977, wasn't one of the big guys, but he was the leading punter in Ohio. Now a resident of the Kansas City suburb of Leawood, Kan., he was glad to have such a good reason to return to Perrysburg.
"I'm seeing people we haven't seen in years," he said.
Becky Kuhr, of Perrysburg, was there, wearing the same yellow and black scarf she wore when she was a cheerleader from 1974 to 1978. She said the crowd went wild when the field goal clinched the '77 homecoming win.
"I just remember a bunch of screaming ... and the rush onto the field," she said.
Ms. Kuhr was sitting in the hospitality tent with Wally Young and his family. Mr. Young, of Dover, Ohio, was the championship team's center, and he had as much enthusiasm for the program now as he did when he was a player.
"I've been looking forward to this for 35 years," he said of the reunion. He had saved the jerseys he wore, and son Eric Young and his girlfriend, Katie Jones, both of Alliance, Ohio, wore them to the game.
The NLL champs of '77, family, and friends gathered around the pear tree to recall the glory days and remember friends and loved ones.
Mark Elliott read from Scripture and offered a prayer of thanksgiving. Dave Wilson teared up as he spoke about his good friend and teammate Scott, who he said also watched over them that great homecoming game and throughout the rest of their championship season.
"Scotty was there," Mr. Wilson said.
As the 1977 team honored its long-standing sense of camaraderie and fellowship, this year's black-suited Yellow Jackets ran off the field and past the tree, their cleats clacking on the paved path to the locker room.
Soon, another homecoming game would be part of Perrysburg's history.
Contact Rebecca Conklin Kleiboemer at:firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-356-8786.