“Boomer” Winfrey

Varmint County Correspondent

Where to begin? So much has happened in Varmint County during the last month that your erstwhile reporter cannot possibly do it all justice in one column.

The new county mayor, Gabby Aslinger, broke new ground by joining Doc Filstrrup’s poker night crowd, the first female to ever be invited to sit in with the county’s political movers and shakers.

Gabby laid out her vision for Varmint County’s future, answered questions, addressed concerns and shrugged off a sexist comment or two from Lawyer McSwine and Judge Harwell. Oh, and she bluffed Colonel Hugh Ray and Doc out of a pot with a measly pair of treys, cleaned the good ol’ boys’ ploughs all night and walked out the door with $980 of their money.

“Where the hell did she learn to play cards like that?” Judge Hard Time Harwell asked, adding, “Oh, Lord. I clean forgot, her daddy is Archie Aslinger.”

Archie, longtime fishing buddy of Colonel Hugh Ray during his days as County Judge, was banned from playing in the game after he won 36 consecutive pots back in 1997. Archie is encouraged to watch, if he wants to join in the whiskey drinking, cigar smoking and political discussions, but was declared an officially “retired champion” by consensus of the other players.

October is also a special time of year in Varmint County, time for that most popular of non-holidays, Halloween. But this year the October gossip down at Smiley’s Pool Hall, Baldy Pennywell’s Barber Shop and Prunella Pinetar’s beauty parlor has centered not on local politics nor Halloween, but the happenings at Varmint County High School and particularly the Varmint County Vipers football team.

As usual, the Vipers got off to their usual hot start under legendary coach Boise Otis (B.O.) Snodgrass, whipping the Higgs County Blue Devils 34-6, the Pottsville Panthers by 45-0 and little Pleasant View by a score of 63-2, the Lakers’ one score coming when Viper quarterback Peavey Potts tried to run off tackle from his own end zone.

The tackles got confused. Left tackle Corney Haig pulled right, and right tackle Pie Aslinger pulled left and the two knocked each other silly. Peavey tried to leap over the mess but collided with his own center and fell back for a safety and two points for Pleasant View.

Then the entire season was turned upside-down during the following Monday afternoon practice. Coach B.O. was in the midst of one of his traditional profanity-laced tirades when he suddenly clutched his chest and keeled over. After several anxious hours in the waiting room at Burrville Medical Center, B.O.’s wife Jenny Lu, spoke to the assembled football players, families and friends.

“B.O. had to have by-pass surgery. He’s gonna be alright, but the doctors say he needs at least six weeks to recuperate and won’t be coaching for the rest of this season,” she announced.

This left Varmint County High’s administration with a bit of a problem. Normally, the assistant coach would take over the responsibilities of head coach, but B.O.’s assistant, Toby Perkins, broke his leg and both arms during the summer and was still recovering. (Toby and his cousin Cleotis were playing chicken on wave runners out on Mud Lake and neither one clucked.) 

Ike Pinetar fished an unconscious Cleotis out of the water, while Toby managed to cling onto floating wreckage with his one functional arm. That left B.O. with only student managers until Toby mended. 

In most such instances, the basketball coach or the baseball coach would step in to help with the football team. Unfortunately, B.O. Snodgrass is also the coach of both the basketball and baseball teams, so it was left to the new coach of the Varmint County Lady Vipers, Penny Haig, to take over as coach of the football team.

Penny, fresh out of college, was just hired in August to take over the Lady Vipers from long-time coach Gabby Aslinger, now the county mayor. She protested that she knew precious little about football tactics or even all the rules of the game, but school principal Meriwether “Merry” Goins was adamant.

“Penny, you’re all we’ve got. I tried to hire a temporary coach from one of the other area schools, but they all said the same thing: “No way I’m going to try and coach that bunch of delinquents, thugs and future felons!”

“Merry, one or two of those players are older than I am,” Penny sighed. “I ran into Hobie Angel outside Smiley’s yesterday and he said, ‘I understand you’re gonna be our new coach.’ Then he asked me out on a date.”

“Well, Coach Snodgrass does have a tendency to overlook state-imposed age limits for high school athletics. At least three offensive linemen are above the legal drinking age,” Merry admitted.

So, on Thursday afternoon before the big game against the Hawkinsville Hornets, Coach Penny Haig gathered her new charges on the sidelines at Viper Field for a little pep talk.

“Boys, I know you’re worried about Coach B.O. and I guess you’re not happy about being coached by a woman, but if we all pull together we’ll do just fine,” Penny started, ignoring a number of wolf whistles from the back of the pack and all the sidelong glances and snickers coming from the front.

She then set the team to doing block and tackle drills while she went over the playbook with Peavey Potts and his backup quarterback. It wasn’t long before she was blowing her whistle.

“What are you guys doing? That’s not blocking!” Penny screamed. “You guys had better get serious about this upcoming game or Hawkinsville is going to grill your chops tomorrow night.”

“Nah, they’re going to pickle our cucumbers,” Curtis Hockmeyer laughed, adding an obscene gesture.

“OK, Curtis, you think you’re tough? Block me out,” Penny challenged.

“Huh? Block you? I wouldn’t mind coping a feel, but I don’t wanna hurt you, coach,” Curtis added.

“That’s OK. I’ll take my chances,” Penny replied. “I want to see your A game.”

With that, the two lined up and the 200-pound guard surged toward his female coach. Penny deftly sidestepped his rush, planted a knee on his backside and slammed him into the ground.

“You there – Hobie Angel. I’m going to run with the ball. You tackle me if you can.”

“Aww, coach. I knew you’d come around sooner or later,” Hobie grinned. He was still grinning two minutes later, after Penny planted a stiff-arm to his Adam’s apple that left his lower face temporarily paralyzed.

“You think you’re tough, but I think you’re all out of shape. A good team could wear you down,” Penny proclaimed. “Let’s run some laps around the field.”

Forty-five minutes later, Penny Haig completed her fifteenth lap around Viper Field. A half dozen players had managed to keep pace with her, the rest being scattered out in various prone positions along the track.

“OK, let’s have a little talk before I let you guys shower,” Penny announced to her exhausted players. “First off, no more sexual comments or gestures. I’m your coach, not your girlfriend. Second, no more profanity. If I want to hear cussin’ I’ll go visit my brothers in Haig Hollow. Third, I’m going to need all of you to help if we’re going to get through this season undefeated.

“I’ve played my share of football with my cousins and brothers, but I’m not yet up to speed on all the rules or plays. You all know your roles better than I do and you know what you’re capable of doing, but you better know that I can tell if anyone isn’t giving a hundred percent. You don’t give your best effort, you’ll end up holding down the bench.”

The following Sunday afternoon, Penny visited Coach B.O. Snodgrass in his hospital room.

“I listened to the game on WVLT, Penny. It got a little dicey there, especially when you got tossed out of the game by the officials.”

“Yeah, well I thought it was a little extreme when that Hawkinsville player started jumping up and down on Peavey’s back while he was on the ground and they didn’t call the penalty.”

“Yeah, he could’a at least taken his cleats off first,” B.O. chuckled.

“You don’t seem surprised.”

“Nope. Every team on our schedule has been roughed up by the Vipers for years. They figure, female coach, this is their time to get even.”

“We won 34-7. I don’t think they got even.”

“The boys played pretty well for you out there, didn’t they?”

“Yes, I think we’ve come to an understanding.”

“Penny, I’ve kept my boys playing hard and winning games all these years because they’re more afraid of me than they are of the other team. They’re not afraid of you, but from what I hear, they respect you. They seem to be in good hands so maybe it’s a good time for me to retire.”

“Coach, don’t even think about it. I can muddle through this season but if you try to retire on me, you won’t have to wait on another heart attack – I’ll kill you myself!”