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‘Raider Pride' is a sign of the times: Fans revel in football team’s second straight trip to title game

By Dan Miller

danmiller@pressandjournal.com

717-944-4628
Posted 12/6/17

Judy Douglass can tell you the name and number of every player on the Middletown Area High School football team.

She’s most proud of No. 70, her grandson Brendan Douglass. But she’s …

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‘Raider Pride' is a sign of the times: Fans revel in football team’s second straight trip to title game

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Judy Douglass can tell you the name and number of every player on the Middletown Area High School football team.

She’s most proud of No. 70, her grandson Brendan Douglass. But she’s proud of every member of the team.

Like many Middletown residents and businesses, she shows her pride through the big blue and gold balloons and “Raider Pride” and “Whatever It Takes” signs that are displayed in front of the apartment building Douglass lives in on East Main Street.

For good measure, her car has a Raider Pride license plate on the front.

For two years Douglass has been helping to feed the team at the high school before every game.

Brendan, now a senior, was on the team that came so close to winning a state championship in 2016. That experience left Brendan and his teammates hungry for more.

“They want this,” Judy said of the 2017 team as it prepares for Saturday’s state championship game vs. Quaker Valley at Hersheypark Stadium. “They want to leave Hershey No. 1.”

Judy’s roots in Middletown run deep. Her parents graduated from here, she did in 1965, and her son played football for the Blue Raiders and graduated in the 1980s. Brendan is a fourth-generation Blue Raider.

That adds up to a lot of aunts, uncles, parents, grandparents and other relatives, all of whom help pack War Memorial Stadium and the away fields for every game of the season.

“I’ve never seen crowds at a high school football game” like the crowds from Middletown, said Cheryl Brodish, a New Jersey native brought here by marriage.

Her son Robert “Robby” Brodish played football for Middletown, went away to college to become a teacher, and came back to teach here. He’s also one of the coaches under Blue Raiders’ head football coach Brett Myers.

“We go to every game,” Brodish said. “Sometimes I’m a little saddened by what I see on the opponents’ (side), either coming to our field or when we are the guest. There’s not nearly as many families or friend support for other teams as I’ve seen in Middletown. And that’s every single game, every time. We do make a presence.”

The players on this year’s team have their own heritage. A lot of them have been playing together for many years, going back to their days with Seven Sorrows, said Judy Douglass.

“They have been playing together forever, starting with Midget ball all the way up. You don’t always see that because kids don’t always tough it out all those years,” said Brodish.

Most of the “Raider Pride” and “Whatever It Takes” signs that you see all over town were paid for by Matinchek Funeral Home.

Last year as the Blue Raiders were approaching their playoff run the Middletown cheerleaders contacted funeral director Zachary “Zac” Matinchek to ask if he would help pay for some signs.

The idea was to “flood” War Memorial Stadium with blue and gold signs to surprise the players and coaches during the last home regular season game of the year, Matinchek said.

He agreed to help, and paid for the first 1,000 signs.

“They were gone right away. People were calling left and right. They were calling us because they saw our name on it, but I didn’t even know where they got them made. I just gave them the money for it,” Matinchek said.

The cheerleaders paid for a second batch of 1,000 signs, but the printer didn’t remove the Matinchek name. Matinchek decided to cover half the cost of the second batch, because the mistake was by the printer and not the cheerleaders’ fault.

The Matinchek family has had businesses in Middletown “forever,” from the old Ierley’s kitchen store on East Emaus Street, to the Brownstone, to of course the funeral home.

“This town has done a lot for our family. This town has kept our family pretty much in business. I am not hesitant to give back to the town that supports us,” Matinchek said.

Other businesses have helped the town show its pride in its football team in other ways.

The banner over North Union Street at the square honoring the Blue Raiders as 2017 District III Champions was donated by Lenny Yospa, president of Youth Sports Photo Inc., according to the Middletown Area School District website.

Last year’s playoff run was pretty special. This year’s is equally so, and will be even more so if the Blue Raiders bring home the bacon.

“You look at these teams out in western Pennsylvania —they are gigantic schools and they are producing these big numbers and always are competitive,” Matinchek said. “They are always producing Division I kids going to Division I schools. Then there’s Middletown. It’s just this little community and I think it’s so neat how we can produce teams that can compete with these private schools (that) recruit all over the place.”

Or as Judy Douglass puts it, “these are Middletown kids, not shipped in” from somewhere else.

The success of last year’s team had been anticipated “for a very long time,” Matinchek added. “This year’s team was just the sleeper bunch. They just kind of started winning and seem to have hit their stride at the perfect time.”

Jeff “Shake” Cleckner knows what it’s like to be on a state high school championship team, and what that can do for a town.

Cleckner was on the 1991-92 Steelton-Highspire boys basketball team that won a state championship.

“It just brings the town together. The following is great in Middletown, just like it was in Steelton.”

Cleckner has been cutting the hair of many of the Blue Raider football players since they were little boys, coming to Cleckner’s barber shop in Steelton. Now he’s on East Main Street in Middletown.

“Brady Fox would come in with his buddies but he never got his hair cut,” Cleckner said. Like Samson, Fox always thought that keeping his hair long was his source of strength.

“Seeing them grow up and make it this far is something to be proud of. They are all good kids,” Cleckner said.

No one wants to jinx it, but Cleckner thinks this team has a pretty good shot at going all the way.

“I think they are gonna bring it home. So far it’s a tough team to beat,” he said. “The kids seem content and they seem like they got their heads on their shoulders right and the coach is doing his game plan, so hopefully they can bring it home.”

“Oh, this town will explode” if they do win, Douglass said. “That’s something they will carry with them for the rest of their lives.”

Big Blue Raiders signs are on the front and side of Michele Hughes-Lutz’s floral business in Royalton, Creations With You in Mind.

She was a little girl in 1969, when the boys basketball team from Middletown Area High School won the state championship.

“People were lining the streets. They drove the kids up Union on the bus. It was a grand time,” said Hughes-Lutz.

Her son Cody played for the Blue Raiders in 2014, during Myers’ second year as head coach.

“We were very, very active” and went to all the games. She misses most of the games now because Friday night is a very busy time for her business. But she never misses a Blue Raiders football game on the radio.

If the team wins Saturday, the town needs to give them a parade, Hughes-Lutz said.

Brodish, who works for Hughes-Lutz at the flower shop, agrees. Even with all the blue and gold out there, Brodish thinks Middletown hasn’t done enough to recognize the team — given how long the players have stuck together and how much effort they have put into the sport for so many years.

“It will be awesome for everybody — for the town, for the players, for the coaches, especially since they went so far last year and unfortunately met their match,” she said. “If they win this time, there is going to be no containing them. It’s gonna be very joyous. I think the town will really start appreciating them even more than they do now.”

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