By Jeff Nations
WOODSTOCK -- An hour before kickoff, you could find Darin Ryman bent over his task and focused on the long work ahead.
That's if you could find Ryman through the thick cloud of smoke curling up into the brisk night air at Central High School. Ryman and his compatriots, part of Central's booster club, were already well into a daunting task by 6 p.m., on Friday night -- feeding what promised to be thousands of fans headed to a highly anticipated Group A, Division 2, Eastern Section football playoff game between county rivals Strasburg and Central.
"I'm cooking a whole lot more -- a whole lot more," said Ryman, never taking a break from the blazing grill. "Probably, I'd say at least double."
On Friday night, that meant the dedicated grill crew was looking to serve up about 100 pounds of hamburger meat, another 30 to 40 pounds of hot dogs, and another 15 to 20 pounds of Polish sausage.
Ryman, who's been volunteering for several years at the school, said the Nov. 2 regular-season matchup between the Rams and Falcons in Woodstock served as great preparation for the rematch.
"We were ready for that one, too," Ryman said. "They got ahead of the game on this one."
Staying ahead of the game was on the mind of Woodstock Police Chief Eric Reilly on Friday, as well. With numerous town police officers on hand, augmented by deputies from the Shenandoah County Sheriff's Department, assorted Virginia state troopers and a small contingent from the Strasburg Police Department headed by Chief Tim Sutherly, Reilly had plenty of visible security on hand.
"We have additional officers out, more for facilitation of traffic coming in and out and trying to ease some of that congestion," Reilly said. "We had an incident on the interstate that compounded that tonight, but it helps with that."
Reilly has been Woodstock's police chief for about six months, but has been a lifelong Shenandoah County resident. So while plenty of law enforcement was on hand, Reilly didn't expect trouble from the swelling crowd.
"It's always been a good rivalry," Reilly said. "Nothing where we have fights in the bleachers or in the parking lots. It's just a good-hearted competition.
"... We just want to encourage everybody to have good sportsmanship -- the parents, the fans -- and exercise restraint. Obviously one side's going to win, one side's going to lose. We just want to have a nice safe environment for the kids to have a great experience and leave it all on the field."
Central Athletic Director Kenny Rinker was expecting gate receipts of around $12,000 from Friday's matchup, although the school only keeps $850 for expenses. The rest is split between the Eastern Section (two-thirds) and the Virginia High School League.
"We may be looking at 2,400 or 2,500 [fans] tonight," Rinker said. "I think it'll be a good turnout."
Rinker said Central's football stadium could probably hold up to 3,500 fans, if necessary. By kickoff, the bleachers on both sides were packed with purple- and blue-and-gold clad fans, and the fence on south end of the field was ringed with onlookers. Hundreds of fans clustered the hill overlooking the home-team sideline, as well.
To deal with the extra-large crowd, Central brought in extra portable toilets for the visitor's side, plus a portable concession stand and extra, temporary bleachers.
"We didn't go too overboard, but we did enough things hopefully to accomodate everybody," Rinker said. "We did hear a lot of positive comments from the regular season game, a lot of people thanked us for bringing in the concession stands and the port-a-johns so people didn't have to be walking up those steps."
The biggest hitch of the night concerned the officiating crew, which hit a lengthy traffic snarl caused by a crash on the northbound side of Interstate 81. Rinker said game officials left the interstate at Edinburg and came the rest of the way up U.S. 11.
Like Reilly, Rinker didn't expect any nastiness between fans of the two schools. It was obvious to see why, as fans from both Strasburg and Central freely mingled on each side of the field.
That doesn't mean Rinker -- or anybody else -- was expecting anything less than another grim contest on the field.
"Our kids get along, I think, pretty much -- they talk to each other. But when you step in between the white lines or you step on those courts, it's a whole different ballgame and a whole new can of worms. And that's the way it should be."
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or firstname.lastname@example.org>