By Tom Nader
Publisher and Editor
We are all familiar with the sportsmanship handshake line that concludes every youth and high school sporting event.
What you are not familiar with are the handshakes — the many handshakes — that close out football practices in Garrettsville.
Last Friday night, I arranged with high school head coach Mike Moser for me to stop out at the end of their evening practice so that I could get a photo of the team that I could use in the upcoming Portage Sports High School Football Preview magazine.
The G-Men graciously gave me an extra 10 minutes to get the photos I needed.
Once the team photo was captured, the team began filing out of the bleachers, cleats click-clacking down the steps, while Coach Moser and myself had a headstart on the group to reach the other side of the field since we had been standing near the 50-yard line in the middle of the field when I took the picture.
By the time the football team made it to the other side of the field, on their way to walk up the hill and enter the locker room to close out their night, Coach Moser and I were already there and in mid-conversation.
Soon, player after player — every single player — came up to Coach Moser to shake his hand.
Moser had just spent the last two hours with the team, grinding through a hot summer preseason workout, but greeted each player as if he was seeing them for the first time that day.
Moser then offered them a short, but genuine and uplifting comment.
“Hey, Jon. Great practice tonight. Let’s keep it going tomorrow.”
The “tomorrow” part of that comment came from the fact that the G-Men were scheduled to scrimmage at Ravenna the next morning.
Before they could get there, though, or even go home for that matter, the handshakes had to finish.
The handshakes were that important.
I asked Moser if the handshakes were part of some kind of themed message from Friday’s practice.
Maybe a deliberate team-building exercise.
“No, it just happened one day a couple of years ago and is now just something we do,” Moser said.
“I think it started with Keegan (Sell),” defensive coordinator Jarrod Lewis said.
Fittingly, it was Sell, now a senior and returning All-Ohio standout, that was the last off the field that night.
He made sure the equipment was picked up and put away.
A job that could have easily been for an underclassmen, but not in Garrettsville and not on a team with Sell on the roster.
It is inside these small moments, inside each of those handshakes, where everlasting connections are made.
They start as a simple gesture, but turn into a culture-defining and character-building program tradition.