Saturday, December 10, 2011

Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: Pack of Christiansburg fans follows team to Lynchburg today

Lately, Harry Richardson's problem has been a good one to have.

See, for many years, it was pretty easy being the Christiansburg High School football team's public address announcer. Some Blue Demons player would make the tackle, and Richardson would call out his name over the loud speaker. Simple enough.

Or -- and this was the more likely occurrence for far too long -- some Blue Demon would NOT make the tackle. And then another one wouldn't. And then another.

At that point, Richardson needed only to identify the number on the jersey entering the end zone, glance down at the opposing team's roster and make the call: "Touchdown, [whoever]."

Elementary for a veteran like Richardson.

But now? Now it's a challenge. Now there are Christiansburg defenders everywhere - swarming, hitting, finishing tackles.

Now, the stopper sometimes goes unidentified.

"Sometimes," Richardson said with a chuckle, "I just have to say, 'A pack of Demons.'"

A pack of Demons. You can expect that today at Liberty University. And it's not just the Christiansburg players, who will face Briar Woods at 4:30p.m. in the VHSL GroupAA Division 4 championship game.

It's also the fans in the town, who've been gobbling up presale tickets with gusto.

"We've constantly been selling them for three straight days," Christiansburg athletic director Kirk Litton said Friday.

And why not? This is Christiansburg's first ever crack at a state title. A lot of people thought last season would be the year, but that run ended in double-overtime of the state semifinals.

It was the second straight time the Blue Demons had gotten that far - and the second straight time they'd fallen.

But this year, they won at that stage emphatically, blasting Broadway 35-0 last week to earn the elusive bid.

"One of the things I've always thought about," Christiansburg coach Tim Cromer said, "was that if we were able to make this game and have a chance to win it, not only the impact it would have on our players and coaches, but how much our community would be able to enjoy it."

Oh, it plans to, win or lose. Signs have gone up in town showing support.

"CONGRATS BLUE DEMONS GO ALL THE WAY" proclaims one gas station marquee. "GOOD LUCK CHS BLUE DEMONS" says a fast food sign normally reserved for the limited-time-only specials.

If anyone knows how much this could be a limited-time opportunity for Christiansburg, it's Richardson. He's been helping with the team's game operations in some form for 28 seasons.

"Oh, there were some dry years," Richardson said. "It was feast or famine there for a long time. There were years where we had some pretty slim crowds."

That would have seemed hard to believe two weeks ago, when Christiansburg drew a standing-room-only audience for its regional final victory over Magna Vista.

But things started changing in 2002, when Cromer returned to his alma mater. Richardson, whose son played football at Christiansburg and graduated in 1989, had known Cromer since the coach was a boy.

"Knew his dad, actually," said Richardson, 65. "Grew up with his dad - I'm a little older than his dad, but I watched Tim come up through school. You could see there was an intensity in Tim as a kid. He dedicated himself to whatever he was doing."

And after gaining experience as a high school coach in Florida, Cromer returned to try to revive a long-suffering program.

"I knew he was going to bring some new looks to us," Richardson said. "I think that's probably what we needed: some new looks, some new plays. Tim has surrounded himself with some really good coaches, a lot of 'em I've known for a long time.

"So I knew from the very beginning: Tim was going to succeed. I didn't have any idea he was going to succeed to the level he did, though."

Yet he has. They all have. Christiansburg is 12-1. The quarterback, Brenden Motley, is a Virginia Tech recruit. The running back, Zach Snell, has been a scoring machine in the playoffs. The defense has allowed an average of 12 points a game.

And the fans?

"They're going to travel. Yes, they are," Richardson said. "Everybody I've talked to - even in Blacksburg and around here - says, 'We're going to go. We want to see this.'

"That's one thing I've noticed: the communities. It used to be a big rivalry down here, but now it's a matter of, 'We've got one of our own going down there, and we're going to go down there and see 'em play.'"

So look out, Lynchburg. A pack of Demons is heading your way.

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