"Practice'' and "enjoyment'' aren't two things that usually go hand-in-hand as far as players are concerned.
Just ask Allen Iverson.
But Hollidaysburg Area High School football coach John Barton is trying to change that up a little bit this week. Barton's Golden Tigers will hold a Blue-White intrasquad spring game today to wrap up a week of spring practices not unlike their college counterparts all over the country, and it seems to have done the trick.
"I've had more fun this week than I've had in a while,'' said Barton's son, Matt, a junior center/defensive tackle who has started for the past two years.
The game will be held today from 1:30-3 p.m. at Tiger Stadium and is open to the public. Other than the absence of special teams and the lack of actual uniform pads and fully live line play, the scrimmage will be just like and actual game between teams of rising sophomore-though-senior players John Barton and his staff hope to have divided fairly evenly. Tiger coaches will serve as officials.
The idea of spring practice isn't really something new. Other states have it formally for high schools and commonwealth college coaches have been hoping to get it instituted in Pennsylvania for years. However, it can be run as a voluntary practice.
The elder Barton said he was aware Altoona used to have spring practice and that State College holds it for two weeks, as well. He picked up the idea from Franklin Regional's Greg Botta. The idea of wrapping it all up with an actual game, though, was the former West Virginia University player's own twist.
"We're just having a little fun,'' Coach Barton said. "There are no pads. It's basically two-hand touch with a lot of outside runs and passing. The kids are excited.''
Barton instituted the spring game for the first time last year, and Tiger lineman Pat Ollinger said it went over well with the players.
"Everybody was pretty happy. We were pretty pumped,'' Ollinger said. "It's great. It gets you in the mindset for competition.''
Without pads, one might wonder how much the linemen can get out of the game or even Hollidaysburg's 90-minute practices though the week. The defensive linemen, though, will hold dummy pads to allow the players in the offensive trenches to get used to moving their feet, improving timing, taking proper angles into their blocks and using their hands correctly.
"It's a great tool to enhance mental preparation,'' Ollinger said.
Barton estimated that the spring practices received about 85 percent attendance.
"We've got the baseball kids missing with our team still in the playoffs, or we have some kids leaving early to go to baseball practice,'' Barton said. "Of course, it's completely voluntary. It has to be to be legal.''
For the die-hard football players, it's a chance to get back in the game and break up about a nine-month lull between games.
"We got ourselves energized,'' Matt Barton said. "It's a lot of fun. We have all three levels of kids divided among the teams.''
Hollidaysburg hasn't gone out of its way to publicize the event.
"Last year, we had a few parents in the stands. Maybe three-to-five people,'' Coach Barton said, laughing. "This year, maybe we'll get 20-to-30.''
For Ollinger, the more the merrier. That would give it even more of a real-game feel.
"It would be great to see people in the stands coming out to watch,'' Ollinger said.