“What do you know about taking pictures at football games?”
Daughter Tanner, who was filling in for Dispatch shooter Kelly Tippett last week, had drawn Friday night assignments in Pickens County and New Hope. She was asking the wrong person. I was never much good at shooting high school football and know even less about low-light digital photography.
Sports editors I shot for were strictly meat and potatoes in their photo appetites. Any variation on the star running back blasting through the line with a tackler wrapped around him would do just nicely, thank you.
I was always distracted by the drama and pageantry: the players in their pregame preening, crazed coaches on the sidelines screaming at their charges, undersized benchwarmers in their spotless uniforms cheering on their comrades and the way light falls off in these dimly lit stadiums, creating shadowy netherworlds in the end zones and around the concession stands.
A lot of raw emotion is released into the ether on these Friday nights.
For my daughter I could provide little more than moral support and an explanation of the game, but when when I asked if I could go along, she seemed happy to have the company. Aliceville, Ala., on a Friday night sounded like an outing to an exotic land.
By the time we”d reached the Green Hill Bridge, I”d given up on trying to explain the rules of game, and she seemed just as happy to talk about other things. For her the evening would be like a trip to the opera for most of us: a lot of noise, motion and even beauty, but in large part indecipherable.
First, we had to find the stadium.
For direction, she pulled into Jack”s next to two men, who were ordering at the drive-thru. The one closest to us was wearing a Cub Scout shirt with an American flag patch on its shoulder.
“We want fresh fried chicken,” the Cub Scout was yelling at the speaker box. “I don”t want any of that stuff from under the light.”
They looked at us, question marks on their faces.
“It”s down there by the CO-OP,” one of them pointed.
We headed south on 17 and, soon enough, signs directing us to the stadium began to appear. Finally, the lights and then the shadowy facade of the Tri-County CO-OP came into view.
Feeling silly, I said, “We”re with the press,” to a woman holding a bucket of money. She waved us through.
We parked and joined the trickle leading to the stadium. The air reverberated with energy.
Tanner went the side of the Pickens County Tornadoes and I to the Aliceville Yellowjackets. Later she confessed liking my team better because their royal blue uniforms were prettier. With my Canon point-and-shoot I was hunting bear with a pellet gun. I had few illusions about getting any action shots; a sideline confrontation between coach and player was the best I could hope for.
Midway through the second quarter I crossed the field to check on my partner, who wasn”t faring well either. I offered encouraging words before moseying down to the end zone where I found Morris Hickman, a pleasant man wearing a purple Aliceville Yellowjackets T-shirt and carrying a professional camera with a long lens.
“I”m just shooting for the school,” Hickman said, “for the kids.”
He showed me some of his images, which were far better than anything Tanner and I could hope for. I gathered up my nerve and described our plight.
“Would you mind e-mailing us one or two of these?” I asked.
Hickman readily agreed, “Yea, I”ll send you five or six.”
He went on to tell me he has a weekend photography and videography business in Aliceville. His day job for 30 years has been lockmaster for the Army Corps of Engineers at the Bevil Lock and Dam.
Talking further we discovered we were the same age and both had come through high school as integration was taking place. Hickman, a black man, agreed with me that it had been an interesting time and, like me, felt fortunate to have passed through that bit of history at that time in his life.
We chatted on like old friends.
Finally, I waved to my partner.
“Got it covered,” I told her, relating my encounter with the kind stranger.
“Y”all get what you need,” the lady with the bucket asked at the gate.
“Yes, thank you,” I said, patting her arm.
As we crunched across the gravel parking lot to the car, an almost full moon — the Harvest Moon plus a day — was coming into view just above the tree tops.
Birney Imes is the publisher of The Commercial Dispatch. E-mail him at email@example.com.
Birney Imes III is the immediate past publisher of The Dispatch.
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