Wednesday, August 22, 2001

Football changes town's outlook

By Michael Clark
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        LEBANON — An early kickoff to high school football, and the festivities that surround it, couldn't come at a better time for this politics-weary Warren County city.

        Primed for another winning season, Lebanon High School takes on the Mason High School Comets at Galbreath Field Thursday evening in the Skyline Chili Crosstown Showdown.

        Fans say the game, which is this season's inaugural football game for all Ohio high schools, is a welcome respite from the political contentiousness following last month's felony indictments of the Lebanon city manager, former city attorney, auditor and a department deputy in connection with early retirement buyouts alleged to have cost the city $300,000.

[photo] The Chrostowski family of Lebanon sees football as a big part of small-town life. They are Kathy (top left) and Drew (top right) with children (from left) Erin, 9; Sean, 10; and David, 5.
(Dick Swaim photo)
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        For many Lebanon residents, it's time to start thinking about backing their football Warriors and to break out their maroon Warrior clothing and banners. It's time to talk about interceptions instead of indictments; wideouts instead of buyouts.

        While some people disagree on a divided council's decision to keep City Manager James Patrick in office, there's strong consensus about their Warriors.

        “It (football) is something the community really needs because we have all the politics going on with city officials,” said Susie Alexander, a member of the family that owns the popular Village Ice Cream restaurant on the city's Broadway Street business district.

        Bill Magyarosi, manager of the Mio's pizzeria just down Ohio 48 from Lebanon High, said there's been a noticeable shift in patron conversation away from politics to pigskin.

        “It's the start of the football season and that's all people are talking about now,” said Mr. Magyarosi, a Lebanon resident of 26 years and a huge Warrior football fan.

        While Lebanon's Warriors went undefeated during the regular season last year, Mason's Comets finished 4-6 in 2000. Mason supporters are hopeful coming into the opener with their Warren County rival that new coach Gary Popovich can return the football team to the state playoffs, for which they last qualified in 1999.

        Mr. Magyarosi plans to get his Lebanon family, including four young children, out to the game well before Thursday's 7 p.m. kickoff at 9,500-seat Galbreath Field near Paramount's Kings Island.

        He says they enjoy the colorful spectacle of high school bands and drill teams, and playing with their friends on the grounds.

        But best of all, he says, is the flush of renewed communal optimism and excitement only a winning football team such as Lebanon — 53-8 in the last five years with a state championship in 1998 — can bring.

        “There's a party atmosphere about it. For the kids, it's not so much a game but a big social hour,” said Mr. Magyarosi. “Lebanon is a fairly close-knit community and football helps to bring it even closer together.”

        Kathy Chrostowski and her family live just a deep punt away from Lebanon High's football stadium. She enjoys hearing the school's marching band practice, and her family, even down to the youngest member, often dresses in Warrior colors.

        “No doubt about it. This is the thing to do in Lebanon in the fall. We love our team,” said Ms. Chrostowski, whose family has lived in Lebanon for eight years.

        “The games are like a festival with people cheering and the music. Everybody you know is there. It's a huge part of our little town life,” she said.

        Support has always been strong but the breakthrough 1998 state championship season kicked it up a notch, said neighbor Carol Ross, a Lebanon resident for more than two decades.

        “That year was a real turning point with the community getting involved,” said Ms. Ross, who added that many of the area's newer residents have quickly adopted affection for Warrior football.

        “The new people moving in are really getting into the spirit. It's really cool,” she said.


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