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Special moment for special Tiger
January 11, 2010 - Neil Rudel
After seeing and covering thousands of athletes over the past 30 years in Blair County and central PA, it was a thrill this year to see my son Adam become the Hollidaysburg Area High School football team's starting center and one of the team leaders.
I'm not here to write the proud dad column (besides, he'd want to wrestle me), but I did attend the team's annual banquet Sunday and wanted to relate a story about a special player.
Postseason banquets, especially at the high school level, are unique in that no matter if the team goes 10-0 or 0-10, there's a good feeling in the air. The video tribute pulls some emotional strings, the coaches say the right things, some awards are presented, and everyone goes home happy.
In the case of the seniors, there's even more closure as memories flow for players, who grew up with their teammates, and their parents, the designated drivers who shared all the highs and lows of the last 10-plus years, dating back to youth football, YMCA basketball or Little League.
It's one of those banquets that could go on even longer because people don't want to let go.
Hollidaysburg has a nice tradition of having every senior speak for a minute or two about their experience. The last person to speak Sunday was Matt Michelone.
Through the steady attrition that the sport endures since 30-40 kids come out in 5th grade, Matt was one of 13 still standing at the end of the line.
Understand this about Matt: When the games were in doubt, he may not have played a single snap.
But there was not one player who consistently exhibited more enthusiasm -- in warmups, on the sidelines, at every function -- than he did, and he was presented with a special award, the Ideal Tiger Award, for his attitude and commitment to the team.
There are not enough kids anymore like Matt who are willing to be part of high school sports, even if they don't play starting roles.
Matt Michelone's father, Barry, a former principal at Frankstown Elementary School, passed away suddenly when Matt was 4 years old. He was raised by his mother, Bernadette, two brothers and a lot of extended family.
While all the kids spoke nicely Sunday, Matt took it a step further. He talked about how much the coaches and his teammates meant to him, what it's like to run out on the field at Tiger Stadium on a Friday night, and he thanked his family.
Then he pointed to the ceiling and said he hopes his dad is looking down proudly and smiling.
Matt Michelone can be certain his dad heard and loved every word.