BY JEFF FALK We never grow as much as we do when we step out of our comfort zones and take chances on ourselves.
Ian Long, a senior at Lebanon Catholic High School, saw an opportunity to challenge himself as a human being. Now he’s taking the ball and running with it, both figuratively and literally.
Long is one of four Lebanon Catholic students who are members of the Annville-Cleona football squad. In the past five weeks, Long and the other ‘A-C Beavers’ have learned some things that simply can’t be taught in a class room.
“It was announced one day at school last year by our athletic director,” said Long, a running back and special teams player for the Little Dutchmen. “We really didn’t think it was going to happen. I wasn’t sure, but as the summere wore on I said, ‘I’m going to do this.’
“Yeah, I did get excited about it,” Long continued. “I was a little nervous because I didn’t know if I could hold my own. But I just said to myself, “I’m going to do it and I’m going to do the best I can.”
Because of its small enrollment, Lebanon Catholic has not fielded a football team in 12 years. But last spring, an historical athletic agreement was reached by the administrations of the long-time rivals that would permit interested Catholic students to join and compete with the Little Dutchmen football squad.
A-C athletic director Karen Evans and her counterpart at LCHS, Mike Miller, were said to be instrumental in the cooperation. Long and sophomore linebacker/center Mike Marakowski and freshmen Darius Raomos and John Groh jumped at the chance.
“It was a huge opportunity,” said Long. “I think a school like Lebanon Catholic that is too small to support a football team, it should join another school’s team. That was the only downfall about going to Lebanon Catholic, they didn’t have a football team.
“It’s give me and three other students a chance to play football,” Long added. “It’s been a joy. I’m loving it.”
“They’re just great kids,” said Annville-Cleona head coach Terry Lehman. “They fit right in. I wasn’t even looking at talent level. We’re here to give kids an opportunity. That’s how it’s working out.”
There was, of course, the usual awkward, getting-to-know-each-other stage. But the Little Dutchmen warmed to Long and the Beavers quickly – and vice versa.
“I thought there would be a lot of tension,” said Long. “Like, ‘This is Annville, what are you doing here?’ But it wasn’t like that and it was a big relief. In the beginning, I told them I was from Lebanon Catholic and I saw a couple of eyes roll. But when we got to camp, things went well. It was like, ‘I’m not just on the football team. I’m here to play.’
“My experience has been really good,” Long continued. “Annville has taken me in like I’m part of the family, even though our schools aren’t the best of friends. They gave me a chance to prove myself. I’m just glad I got the oppportunity to play.”
Long last played football six years ago for the Ebenezer Raiders’ midget program. He admitted that it did take some time to shake the rust off of his game.
“Most definitely,” said Long. “When I came in I was shaky about what I was doing. I’m 5-9 and 165 pounds and everybody thought I wasn’t going to hold my own. It took some time, but I got all the plays down. I was more nervous than anything.
“It took me awhile,” Long added. “The coaches kept telling me, “Just keep watching, You’ll get the hang of it.’ I caught up on it quickly.”
Long seems to have a good feel for his role on the team.
“We have two running backs, me and Quenton Hall, and we’re alternating plays,” said Long. “We make a good tag team. And I’m on three of the four special teams. I’d say I’m a role player.”
If he wasn’t playing football for the Little Dutchmen this fall, Long would be playing golf for the Beavers. So what do his Lebanon Catholic friends think of his pursuit?
“They’re all really supportive,” said Long, who also plays baseball for the Beavers. “A lot of people have said, ‘We’re going to come to your games. We’re going to make shirts for you.'” They’re really cheering me on.”
And inexplicably. Long has a pretty good handle on the history of Lebanon Catholic football.
“I was told back in the (19)60s and (19)70s, Lebanon Catholic had some reallly good football teams,” said Long. “But as they got into the 80s and 90s, the attendance went down and the program started to fade away. And then it was dropped.”