Tales from the Beat: Waiting out the lightning in Garrettsville

By Tom Nader | Sports Editor Published:

Any time you are writing on a deadline, weather can become your biggest enemy.

On a fall night in 2003, that enemy came in the form of lightning in Garrettsville.

In Week 5 of the season, on Sept. 26, 2003, I was assigned to cover the Woodridge at Garfield football game.

Any chance I got to cover a football game at Garfield, I got excited. It has always been my favorite place to watch a high school football game. The absence of a high school track oval allows the bleachers and pressbox to sit that much closer to the field. You are closer to the action and you can easily hear the interaction between players and coaches because of it. Everything just seems bigger there simply because you are sitting closer to it all.

The game and night started as you would expect for a nice late September night in the fall in Northeast Ohio. The temperature was mild, but tolerable and got colder as soon as the sun set.

As the game moved along, the G-Men and Bulldogs battled through a relatively close game. Woodridge had entered the game winless, but found themselves in position to sneak a win away from a Garfield team that would eventually go on to finish 6-4.

As soon as the fourth quarter began, though, it became apparent that the conclusion of the game would be a race against the weather.

Clouds that blanketed the sky made it apparent that rain would soon be falling on the field, which would make for a muddy finish to the game, but not anything that would keep two high school football teams from battling on the gridiron.

Then came the lightning with just about half of the quarter left to play.

The OHSAA’s standard safety rule states that when lightning strikes, a game must be stopped and put on a 30-minute postponement. Each lightning strike forces an immediate reset to 30 minutes.

In Garrettsville on this Friday night, lightning became a fixture in the night sky. And 30-minute resets became commonplace.

Eventually, both teams were moved from the field and into the James A. Garfield High School. After spending a few minutes in the pressbox finishing up some notes, I too made the walk from the field to the high school in order to try and find someone who would be able to give me an update on the situation.

At this time, it was close to 10 p.m. and even if the lightning stopped right there and didn’t strike again, the absolute earliest the game would restart would be 10:30 p.m.

Again, that deadline was ticking in the back of my mind.

But the lightning didn’t stop and 10 p.m. quickly became 10:30 p.m. then it drifted to 11 p.m.

In almost all cases, a game with a situation that developed similar to this would simply be postponed and arranged for a Saturday morning or afternoon restart. However, Woodridge had made a firm decision to stick out the rain and lightning to complete the game on Friday night. Saturday was the school’s Homecoming and they didn’t want to potentially interfere with any of that.

It was determined, probably after studying some radar, that the game would restart at midnight.

Once I realized that this game was going to restart, I raced to my car and drove to find a pay phone. As this was before the days of cell phones being commonplace, I had to find a way to call the office and sports editor Allen Moff to see how he wanted me to handle the coverage.

Deadline continuing to tick, tick, tick.

Allen told me that it would be close to meeting deadline by the time I stayed for the game, interviewed the coaches, drove back to the office and wrote the story ... but to go ahead and stay.

A handful of others decided to stay, but not many. I estimated that for every player on the field, maybe one of their parents had waited through the two-hour lightning delay to see the finish of the game.

The field had little resemblance to green grass, giving way the churning of brown mud.

Eventually, Garfield was able to run out the clock to preserve an 18-6 victory, which closed the chapter of their night. But mine still had plenty of work left. I trudged onto the field to interview Garfield head coach Matt Jordan. Each step felt like I was going to leave one of my shoes as a donation to the field as the mud suctioned my foot to the ground.

When I got back to my car, I took my shoes off and threw them into the trunk of my car and started my drive back to the Ravenna office to write up the story.

When I walked into the office, I knew the race against the clock was on. All of the other writers who had been out covering a game that night had already filed their stories and left. I relayed the score to Allen at the desk, then immediately began working on the story.

Weather wasn’t the enemy anymore, the clock was. I had waited out the first and soon defeated the other.

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