After 30-plus seasons of great Elkhart County area high school football memories I've gotten used to feeling the electric vibe and passion of a Friday night playoff game. That said, I was saddened and humbled on what I saw last week at Goshen's Foreman Field. I witnessed the full depth community of apathy in the Maple City.
Fact A: Goshen was struggling, not just this season, but for the last 10 seasons. Fact B: The weather wasn't great, but 48 degrees and a spotty drizzle is hardly a reason to stay home. Nevertheless, I was horrified to see 15 people sitting in the GHS bleachers 30 minutes before the scheduled 7 p.m. kickoff time. Yes, 15. The concessions had more than 15 members of the wrestling squad working the counters. That's a fact, too.
The Redskins crowd eventually got a little better -- it was 100, maybe 120. It couldn't have been much more. Goshen capped an 0-10 season with a 35-21 loss to Elkhart Central, which brought approximately 100 fans of its own. For the Blue Blazers, that's actually pretty good for a road trip within the county boundaries.
Goshen, a school which has played high school for more than a century. A school which this fall celebrated its two most famous teams -- the 25th anniversary of the 1988 4A state champions from the Rick Mirer era and the 35th anniversary of the 1978 Class 2A state winners, the first county championship in the tournament era of IHSAA sports.
The last playoff game I covered at Foreman Field was a 2002 5A playoff between an unbeaten GHS team and Penn, a close game until the fourth quarter, but a great game. The place was packed just 11 years ago. Brad Park retired after the game and the Redskins have gone through six head coaches since. The program has suffered since.
As a GHS alum and as a sports writer, I found this troubling. It's troubling for the players and coaches at Goshen. It's trouble for the administration the support staff and athletic workers. I've known George Madison, now the head maintenance superintendent for Goshen High, since he was a evening janitor. I told him it was barely worth flipping on the lights and lining the field. The IHSAA, though, would have frowned on not playing the game.
Perhaps there were other thin crowds at other stadiums around Indiana. There are places where football isn't a hot ticket. Goshen used to be a hot ticket -- preseason, regular season, postseason. There were at least 30 or 40 kids in a student section which helped. But this level of community disinterest is difficult to process. I'm not naive. Crowds everywhere are down even at traditional hotspots like Jimtown, NorthWood and Penn.
Fans follow schools. Fans follow winning teams well. Fans follow traditional winners even better. But 100 people in seats? Winless team or not, that's a serious problem. Let's hope it doesn't continue for long and someone is getting the message.