James R. France Stadium, the home of the Manchester High School football team for the last 56 seasons, just won’t be the same next year.
Oh, sure, the playing field will still run east and west, and if a team has the opportunity, it should never try to move toward the west in the first quarter because the setting sun is a killer. It will blind you. Even a coach can lose things — maybe even his headset or play chart — in the sun. But the sunset — on a good evening — is the stuff of which those scenic calendars are made. Don’t miss it if you can help it.
You’ll still be able to stand at the top of the home stands and flip — not throw or heave, really, but just flip — a ball into the back yards of the homes on the south side of Pearlman Road. They’re that close.
And before you leave the top step of the bleachers, if you look south and southwest across the former MHS baseball field, you’ll see the old home — built in about 1913 — in which Johnnie Haines and his half-brother, Steve Husch, lived back in the day.
Finally, there’s a good bet that the hot dogs served at the home concession stand will still be among the best you’ve ever tasted at a high school venue — football or otherwise — anywhere.
Yeah, the place where the Panthers have played since 1957, when head coach Les “Swede” Olsson and his only assistant coach, John “Mac” McDowell, were still just young pups, is a special place.
But it won’t be quite the same — it certainly won’t sound the same — come next fall, because Bill Round won’t be there. Not to work, at least, though he says he’ll still come to games. Round, the announcer for Manchester home football games for 28 years, has retired. Friday night’s home finale against Fairless was his last call.
“It’s time,” the always jovial Round said with his always-present smile before the home contest against Triway. “My family has been after me for a while to do it. They’ve wanted me to retire.”
His replacement will be Steve Dies, who’s a real nice guy. He’ll do a fine job; that’s a given. But still, he has a tough, tough act to follow.
Round, now 74 years young, was the announcer at the Manchester youth football/baseball/softball complex, Lockhart Field, when the guy for whom France Stadium is named, longtime Panthers head coach Jim France, approached him about doing the varsity games. Manchester graduate Bob Long, who had the job, had to give it up because he had taken a teaching position at Streetsboro High School. Round didn’t have to be asked twice, and in 1984, he was behind the microphone for the first time, sitting in the far right seat of the bottom level of the tiny press box.
Page 2 of 2 - He’s seen a lot of games — probably close to 150 or so — a lot of wins and a lot of championships. He’s enjoyed them all, but he will tell you that’s not biggest thing he’ll take away from his nearly three decades on the job.
You don’t have to be around the longtime Manchester community resident and Akron Garfield High School graduate long to realize that he’s a people person. He came to the games as much to see the people he knew as much or more as he did to do the job.
Round knew the names of nearly everyone he came across, and of those he encountered whose names he didn’t know, they were only strangers to him once. After he met you for the first time and got to know you, your family, your likes and dislikes, he didn’t forget it — any of it, ever. Somehow, he catalogued it all, and when he saw you again, he pulled that file card out of his memory bank and asked you about various parts of it.
To run across someone who seemed so genuinely interested in you and how you and your loved ones are doing, instead of just chomping at the bit to tell you everything about their life and how they’re doing, was as refreshing as a cool wind blowing into France Stadium on a warm and humid night early in the season.
That will be missed more than anything.
But his calls, his enthusiasm for the small-town environment, his passion for sports and young people and his energy to hit the ground running every week to give fans an enjoyable gamenight experience to take their minds off the busy work week they’ve just been through will be missed too. In fact, it will be missed more than Round will ever know, especially his call as Manchester charged out of the locker room and onto the field at the start of games.
“Here … come … the … PANTHERS!”
And … there … goes … BILL ROUND!