New Castle News

Sports

March 21, 2014

Larry Kelly: If you aren’t from New Castle, you just don’t understand

NEW CASTLE — “Lord I know that I always said that I would never involve you in a baseball game — it always seemed silly. You’ve got enough to do. But if there is any way you could make this pain in my shoulder go away for about ten minutes. ... “

 — Billy Chapel, "For the Love of the Game"

 

I’m a New Castle guy.

Some of my friends laugh when I say it. My wife Marisa reminds me being a New Castle guy isn’t always good, but that’s who I am. I repeat the phrase in my commercials for my law firm, Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George. It’s part of my fiber and has been for 60 years.

I love my town and the people who live in it. New Castle people are different in a special way. If you’re a New Castle person like me then you know what I’m talking about.

It’s a fraternity — a brotherhood. We’re loyal and we care — sometimes too much and sometimes too vociferously. There is a special bond among us that separates us from other communities.

That’s why more than 1,500 fans traveled three and a half hours to watch the Red Hurricane play in the PIAA Class AAAA semifinals against Abington High on Tuesday.

This doesn’t happen in other communities — not in North Allegheny, Hampton or Seneca Valley. When those schools play on the road, the immediate family and some friends will make the trip but not the community.

I’m not suggesting that their community doesn’t care. It does — just not enough. It’s not in their blood. The local high school and its players are not part of their fiber. It’s not a love affair. If the local team wins — well, that’s great. In our community if the locals are not victorious, we lose sleep and when we win, we celebrate.

I guess that’s why hundreds of people were waiting at the school at 2:30 a.m. Wednesday to meet the team after the ’Canes defeated Abington 58-54 to earn a spot in the state championship game.

This community spirit was not lost on New Castle coach Ralph Blundo. Before the game against Abington, he asked his team to play for their community. To win this one for their community, which has supported them with every fiber of its being throughout this playoff run.

I’m still a part of this community, but I’m blessed in that I get to be a part of the coaching staff. As I sit on the bench, I often find myself looking out into the stands at the faces of our supporters, some who have been fans for more than 50 years. Some who no longer live in the community but still come to support their school, their team.

There are certain fans I look for before each game. I don’t know why, except that it gives me comfort to see them. I watch their pride as our team is introduced. I watch their anguish when the game is not going well for the local boys.

Through the simple eloquence of their expression, they are showing their love for our community. Some may ask what’s the big deal? It’s merely a high school basketball game. This is over the top.

Those people don’t understand and they never will, because they aren’t New Castle people.

We are NC. A special breed and I, for one, am proud of it.

Tuesday was a great night for New Castle. The contest was dripping with drama. The game was intense and the fans were a major factor in the ’Canes’ victory.

But, there was one fan who was missing. A fan whose beautiful face I would always see during my pregame perusal of the stands.

Charlene Farris couldn’t be there on Tuesday. She lay sick in a hospital bed. There is nobody more proud of her high school or more fervent in her support of the ’Canes than Charlene.

When I spoke to her family before the game, I told them the ’Canes would bring this victory home for her. But when New Castle lost a 13-point lead in the fourth quarter, it looked like I might not be able to keep my promise.

When we took the lead 55-54 with less than 30 seconds left in the game, I did something I don’t normally do. I’m a religious man and my prayer before each game is always the same. I ask God to allow our players to play to the best of their ability. I don’t ask for a victory.

Like Billy Chapel, the fictional character in the movie “For the Love of the Game,” I believe that God has too much to do than worry about the outcome of a game.

But with the game hanging in the balance and 3,000 people in a state of hysteria, I got down on one knee and asked the good Lord to allow the ’Canes to bring this one home for Charlene. He did and we did and for that gift I will be forever grateful.

When the game was over and the New Castle faithful were pelting the court with Hershey Kisses, I sat on my seat and tearfully texted Charlene’s family to tell them we did it!

It’s something I had to do because Charlene, notwithstanding her failing health, still cared. Like the rest of us, she is a New Castle person.

You have to be one to understand.

(Larry Kelly is a partner in the law firm of Luxenberg, Kelly, Garbett and George and an assistant coach for the New Castle basketball team).

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