EXCUSE DENNIS DECKER for feeling like he spent the last year walking through a time capsule. But here he is again, back at his alma mater, Ridley High School, as the head football coach after a highly successful first year. And here he is again in a familiar spot in the Delaware County Hero Bowl - this time as a head coach.
As a Ridley senior, Decker was the starting quarterback in the 1991 Hero Bowl for the West squad.
Now Decker will be the head coach of the West squad, this year comprised of seniors from the Central League, Episcopal Academy and Haverford School.
Cardinal O'Hara associate coach Anthony Naab heads the East squad, made up of seniors from the Del Val League, O'Hara, Monsignor Bonner and Archbishop Carroll.
The Hero Bowl benefits the Hero Scholarship Fund, which aids the families of Delaware County police officers and firefighters who have fallen in the line of duty.
It's why Decker and his staff have put in the 3-week commitment for the 34th annual Hero Bowl, which starts at 7 tomorrow night at Widener University with kickoff set for 7:30.
"The Hero Bowl is for a great cause, and enables a lot of area kids to showcase their talents in front of a lot of people," Decker said. "There is a rivalry thing, and these kids want to win to represent their leagues. I'm fortunate to have a talented, talented group of coaches around me, like Tom Ryan from Radnor, Joe Gallagher from Haverford [High School] and Upper Darby's Rich Gentile.
"Being high school coaches, you don't get paid a boatload of money. It's all about the kids. If you're into high school football, and you don't get that, you're in it for the wrong reasons. I've loved this. I love coaching the kids from the other teams in the Central League. You don't really know these kids on other teams. I have a great group of kids who are listening and want to get better. These are top kids, but they're still coming to practice every day. This is going to be a competitive game Thursday night."
Decker lost the Hero Bowl he played in, but there is an edge to this game that has been building over the last 5 years, making it highly entertaining and fun to watch.
"I think anytime you do something, you're in it to win, even though it's for a great cause," Decker said. "It is for fun and charity, but football is the type of sport where you have to give it 110 percent, and we know the Del Val team will give it their all. Both teams are talented teams. The kids know the game. It's what makes it so fun, but the bottom line is that you still want to win regardless."
Johnson shut down
Johnson, who has committed to Norfolk State on a track scholarship, had to be rushed the Chambersburg Hospital on Saturday after she fainted following the 100-meter state semifinals.
"My body was weak and I couldn't even move, I felt like I was drained out; there was nothing," Johnson said. "I wasn't feeling right since the district championship. I wanted to defend my state championships, but I just didn't feel right."
Johnson was diagnosed with severe dehydration and went through a full IV bag in less than 15 minutes. She returned home Saturday night and doctors told her she has to take a month off.
"I'm just going to get ready for college and take it easy," Johnson said. "This isn't the way I wanted to go out. Things happen, and I guess they happen for a reason. It is sad, I wanted to run in my last high school track meet, but my body wouldn't let me.
"Overall, though, I'm satisfied with my track career. I did a lot and accomplished a lot. I knew what I was able to do when I was healthy. I'm ready for my college career to begin."
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There was one name conspicuously missing from the final results of this weekend's PIAA state track and field championships at Shippensburg University - defending state 100- and 200-meter champion Rayiana Johnson. The Chester senior had been dragging for the last 2 weeks, and she didn't even reach the finals of the 100.