“Boomer” Winfrey

Varmint County Correspondent

As the final hot, muggy days of August give way to the cooler nights of early Autumn, the collective conscience of Varmint County turns to one thing: football. 

In this case we’re talking about the Varmint County High School Vipers and legendary coach Boise Otis (B.O.) Snodgrass.

The culture surrounding Viper home games has changed little over the past 50 years or so. Fans of the home team sit in concrete bleachers on one side of the field, topped by the press box where WVMT-AM, “Your Home for Gospel Music & Full Sports Coverage,” broadcasts the games.

Across the field, visiting fans sit on rickety wooden bleachers with peeling green paint, picking up splinters in their posteriors whenever they move around too frequently.

The bleachers are generally reserved for womenfolk and children, most Varmint County males preferring to stand along the sidelines on either side of the bleachers, separated from the field by a thick rope. Ever so often, one or two men will wonder over behind the bleachers to take a slug or two of Haig Hollow’s finest product before returning to their posts along the sidelines.

The refreshment stand sits behind one end zone, a concrete block structure with a massive wooden shutter that can be propped up to reveal volunteers from one or more of the county’s churches, dishing out popcorn, chili dogs, sodas and homemade fudge. Different church congregations alternate responsibility for refreshments, the churches sharing the profits with the Viper marching band.

This arrangement has worked relatively well through the years, the one exception being the time that the congregation from the Holiest Church of Salvation in Jesus’ Name took their turn at the snack bar. That particular church practices an ancient time-honored mountain ritual, the handling of deadly serpents. 

Pastor Lucas Stonecipher had just captured a fresh pair of timber rattlers the day of the game and had no time to take them home before reporting for duty at the popcorn machine. It being a chilly night, Lucas decided to bring his cold-blooded guests into the refreshment stand, where it was nice and warm.

Unfortunately, the cage in which Lucas carried the snakes bore a strong resemblance to the crates used to transport hotdog buns. You can guess the rest.

“We’re out of buns. Doreen, open the bin and get a couple of packages,” Deacon Wilford Pennywell of the Stinking Creek Baptist Church yelled out to Doreen Humpnick, wife of the Reverend Sanders Humpnick.

Doreen opened a bin to be confronted by two very angry timber rattlesnakes. She screamed and fainted dead away, and the two snakes made their escape into an air vent leading to the visitors’ dressing room.

After the game, coach Hurley Crutch of the Higgs County Bobcats swore that his team would never again schedule Varmint County.

“They beat us on the field 49-0, my wife had to have a four-inch splinter removed from her behind from sitting on those dilapidated bleachers, my assistant coach got a plug of chewing tobacco thrown in his ear by one of the drunks lining the sidelines and somebody set loose two rattlesnakes in our dressing room.”

There was some discussion about banning the Holiest Church of Salvation from participating in refreshment sales at future games, but Reverend Stonecipher apologized and promised never again to bring reptiles to games. That, and the fact that Abigail Stonecipher made the best homemade brownies in the county, earned the church a reprieve.

Anticipation has been building for this year’s season opener for months. Coach B. O. Snodgrass is back with his team, having recovered from the heart attack that sidelined him early last season. New Lady Viper basketball coach Penny Haig, who stepped in to coach the football team during B. O.’s absence, is on the sidelines as well, having been persuaded to serve as an assistant coach after leading the Vipers to the state playoffs last year. 

The season opener this year was against the arch-rival Hawkinsville Hornets, coached by Toby “Shotgun” Shaughnessy, a character almost as legendary as Coach B. O. Snodgrass himself.

“Nice to see you back, B. O. I see you’ve got that she-wolf Penny Haig working the sidelines with you. You better keep her under wraps,” Shotgun told B.O. as the two coaches shook hands before the kickoff.

“I understand Penny threatened to break both your arms last year during the basketball season, Shotgun.”

“She’s got a temper, but I didn’t take her seriously.”

“That’s not what I heard, but if you didn’t, you should have,” B. O. chuckled. “She had my team of rough and tumble football players scared to death of her after one week as acting head coach.”

“Speakin’ of rough and tumble football players, I understand some of your boys have been disqualified by the state because of their age.”

“Well, turns out that Hobie Angel and Curly Pinetar were both too old to play high school football, so I had to dismiss them from the team,” B. O. confirmed. “I’m still wondering who turned them in to the state.”

“I sure wouldn’t know,” Shotgun replied with a guilty grin. “But you gotta admit that 23 is a bit old to be playing ball against a bunch of teen-aged boys.”

“Hobie can’t help the fact that his pa kept him out of school for five years, living up beyond McCrackin’s Peak doing nothing but fishing, hunting and trapping. He didn’t start high school until he was almost 19 years old,” B. O. explained. “I admire him for still wanting an education at an age when most young men are already working and raising families.”

“He can get educated all he wants as long as he ain’t playing football against my boys,” Shotgun concluded.

“Yeah, Hobie’s taking it pretty well. He’s up in the stands rooting for his former teammates,” B. O. yelled to Shotgun as the two parted company. “Of course he’s not the one I’d worry about if I was the one turned him in. His pa took it right personal. He’s the fellow standing over on the sidelines near your bench wearing the big flop hat – the one with the two pistols jammed in his belt.”

“That’s not really Hobie’s pa standing over there, is it?” Penny Haig asked. 

“Nah, that fellow is a deputy sheriff from over in McKaskill County. He’s here looking for the father of one of Shotgun’s players. Seems he has a warrant for him and expected he might show up for the game,” B. O. replied. “I just thought it would be fun to give Shotgun something else to worry about tonight while we whup his hind end on the field.”

Hawkinsville, as usual, did not go down without a fight. Known for dirty tricks and rough play, the Hornets put Viper quarterback Peavy Potts out of the game in the first quarter when the Hawkinsville left tackle jumped up and down on Peavy’s arm, his cleats causing some nasty gashes that required Doc Filstrup’s attention.

B. O. called over his backup quarterback, freshman Corky Hockmeyer.

“Corky, don’t do nothing fancy. Just take the ball and hand it off to Ox, then get out of the way so you don’t get hurt.”

“Ox” Aslinger, a 15-year-old sophomore, already stood 6´3˝ and tipped the scales at 245 pounds. He only knew one offensive play – take the ball, put his head down and run straight ahead. Ox did just that, usually dragging four or five defenders along with him for ten, fifteen or twenty yards before running out of steam.

By halftime, the score stood at Ox 21, Hawkinsville 6. Peavy Potts returned in the second half, his arm bandaged from elbow to wrist.

“It’s OK, coach. You know I can throw with either arm. I’m ready to play,” Peavy pleaded.

Peavy completed one pass for twenty yards, then uncorked one for 45 yards and Varmint County’s fourth touchdown. Hawkinsville then launched an offensive drive of its own, but faced a third down and four at mid-field. On the next play, Hawkinsville picked up a first down but Coach Shotgun Shaughnessy was whistled for being on the field of play and the Hornet drive fizzled out.

“What happened over there?” Penny Haig asked the head coach.

“Looks like that McKaskill County deputy spotted his man in the crowd and started toward the Hawkinsville sidelines. Shotgun saw him moving toward him, thought he was Hobie’s pa looking for some payback and ran out on the field,” B. O. laughed. “The referee threw a flag on Shotgun for unsportsmanlike conduct.”

When the clock ticked off the final seconds, the score ended with Varmint County 35, Hawkinsville 6. “That was a dirty trick you played on me, B. O. Next year, you come over to Hawkinsville and I’ll have to see that you get a proper welcome!” Shotgun quipped as he walked to the locker room.

“Lookin’ forward to it, Shotgun, but I might take the night off next year. I’m thinking about letting Assistant Coach Penny Haig handle all the lightweights on our schedule from here on,” B.O. replied.