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If you play them, will anybody still show up?

"The administration's been great. They've given me everything I've wanted. They just can't give me what I need; more players, community support, they don't have that power. … It's the weirdest thing I've been through as a coach. Where's the passion?"

Alan Eberhart

Glendale High football coach

If a football game is played at Moyse Field and no one is around to watch it, does it make a sound?

It's a provocative quandary, considering it's happened all too often over the course of way too many past fall seasons.

A week ago, the latest chapter in the hopeful stimulation of the Glendale and Hoover High football programs took place on a clear, Thursday evening at Glendale High.

Nine weeks ahead of all the pomp and circumstance, balloons and ballyhoo, homecoming and hoopla, the Nitros and Tornadoes began their let's-play-two venture with nothing more at stake than … well, let's get to that later.

But, much like the whole idea of the Tornadoes and Nitros locking helmets twice a year, the success of the game after all was said and done differs depending on who you talk to.

The Glendale stands — those of the visitors on Thursday — were likely 75-80% full, while the Hoover faithful's support was still rather lacking. Was it more than that of one of the team's average nonleague affairs or even Pacific League tussles? Sure. But it was far from what an average Southern California football program would draw for an average game, much less against its archrival and much less for a contest with such a novel concept and note of history.

Alas, in telling the tale of the first-ever, first-week, Glendale-Hoover football game, it's likely one should grade on a curve or, perhaps, take into careful consideration the struggling status of both programs. If nothing more, this game was two coaches taking a shot at trying something new to revive programs long ago lost in a losing culture.

In the wake of another combined 2-18 season for the Hoover and Glendale football teams, Nitros frontman Alan Eberhart and then-Hoover jefe Chris Long got together and came up with the idea — intriguing to some, controversial and perplexing to others — to not only conclude their seasons with the annual "Battle for the Victory Bell" rivalry clash, but begin their seasons with a rivalry game, as well.

For many a football program, playing any league opponent twice in a season would be folly, stupid and pointless. But in the cases of the Tornadoes and Nitros, only winning will breed more winning and the teams are continually their most competitive opposition. Not to mention, with both programs long struggling to hit the .500 mark and both representing schools in communities that have anything but football fever, the annual Glendale-Hoover showdown — no matter the fact that the implications are rarely anything more than school pride and a trophy bell — is the only game for the teams that traditionally puts fans in the home stands.

Leading into the 2011 season and the inaugural rivalry opener, Eberhart — a football coach's football coach who never hesitates to speak his mind — had no reservations about just how monumental the game potentially was.

"The biggest, telling sign of the future of this program, and I think Hoover's, is this first football game," Eberhart said. "It's right here [at Moyse Field], no reason not to come. Are they gonna come out and support the kids? I'm curious."

They came out. Sorta. It was far better than a normal crowd for a normal Glendale or Hoover game. But it certainly wasn't as big as the big one that ends the season.

Fact is, 30 minutes before kickoff there were parking spaces aplenty in the school's main parking lot. The next night when Crescenta Valley hosted Santa Paula, there wasn't a spot to be had in said parking lot. Then again, the Falcons' Friday night opener wasn't all that much more crowded. If anything, it's simply a clue as to who was in the stands.

For the most part, it was students for the Glendale-Hoover game. Some walk, some may even stick around after school and most pile into their friends' cars and carpool.

But for the CV-Santa Paula game, one could surmise that a parking lot fills up a lot quicker when parents are driving themselves.

Therein lies just one of the many problems that Eberhart, first-year Hoover Coach Andrew Policky and everyone hoping and struggling to improve the Glendale and Hoover football programs has to deal with.

There's little parental support just as there is little overall fan support.

Football's hardly a household sport within the cultures that traditionally color the Glendale and Hoover student bodies.

Pop Warner is hardly a prominent factor in feeding the schools with talent. They're both factors in the teams routinely getting 25-35 kids on their roster every season.

It's all a formula for losing and losing simply leads to more losing.

There are moral victories. There are lessons to be learned in loss, and fine and great and brilliant things to be taken from the sport of football no matter the final score. But at the end of the day, when the lights dim and the record books are written, it is by wins and losses that success is truly judged. It is not a question of right or wrong or fair or unfair — it is simply a statement of truth.

And neither of these programs will flourish without the support they deserve.

There are some things that likely will never change, some things that can't change and some things that need to change.

The growth of football at the Pop Warner level can't be understated. Kids at Hoover and Glendale have long been getting their first taste of gridiron fundamentals at the high school freshman level. Eberhart, to his credit, has already done his best to open Glendale High up for Glendale Bears Pop Warner practices and games. At the root of any community, little kids should aspire to one day play under the Friday night lights of their hometown high school. Instead, most of these kids aspire to transfer.

Parents can and need to change, as well. There's no other way to describe parental support in the stands at Glendale and Hoover than as pathetic. My mom and dad, at least one of them, was at every dang one of my football games and in high school it was to watch me do little more than pick splinters out of my butt. But they were there. If your kid's a Nitro or a Tornado, that makes you a Nitro or Tornado.

The term Nitro or Tornado also needs to be redefined. We live in the real world. A great majority of the kids playing high school sports will conclude their playing careers in high school and they should get the most out of their time there. No kid should be defined as a football player or a basketball player or a baseball player or what have you. Kids should be encouraged to play multiple sports, not spurned by coaches when they want to do so. There's plenty of kids at both schools who couldn't make it through a regular day of football practice, much less a two-a-day, and will quickly quit on a football team and then criticize it for losing when said quitter couldn't carry Alex Yoon or Alex Rangel's jockstrap. Coaches in other sports need not deter the school's athletes from playing in other sports. It's just plain stupid and selfish.

And, of course, there is the historic "Battle for the Victory Bell." It has long defined both Glendale and Hoover and, in turn, whether anyone wants to admit it or not, has long held down both programs. If either team goes winless the remainder of the year, but can salvage a "Victory Bell" triumph, all is seemingly saved. There is far more to a football season than one game. That, more than anything, needs to be realized by the schools, the faculties, the players and the students.

That's what last week's game should have shown.

There was no "Victory Bell" at stake. And no Pacific League standing or playoff berth. Nope, it was bigger than all that. This was the indicator, this was the test that would show if Glendale or Hoover could actually put butts in the seats if it wasn't the last game of the year. This was the test as to whether these two programs could ultimately exist beyond one final game every year.

And maybe that game did change things. Glendale won, 20-6. Maybe it was the beginning of something good for them — at least this year, anyway.

But in the end, there are some who are reading this who will raise an eyebrow, some who will curse it as mean-spirited and, still others, who begrudgingly admit its honesty. More will simply ignore it, as has been part of the legacy of these two programs for far too long. Alas, the majority, won't even read it, because they're the same ones who weren't in the stands on Thursday and probably won't be for much of this season and the next.

Something needs to change for Glendale and Hoover football. It's not right or just for the players or the coaches. They should be supported for their efforts, as they are putting them forth despite little support and little reward. But if they keep playing football games and nobody's around to see it, will a sound ever be made? If there is a problem to be addressed, but nobody's listening to remedy it, will it ever be fixed?

Only the future truly knows the answer. But, sadly, the past says no.

That's just the way I see it, playing second string.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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