The Ephrata High School Mountaineers, or Mounts, ended the longest active football losing streak in Pennsylvania on Saturday afternoon with an 61-14 win over Northern Lebanon. As LNP reported, it was the Ephrata team’s first win since defeating Solanco on Oct. 25, 2012, in a Lancaster-Lebanon League Section Two game (the Mounts now are in Section Three). The losing streak lasted for 52 games and nearly six years.
“Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.” So asserts the quote often attributed to NFL coaching legend Vince Lombardi, but likely uttered by UCLA Bruins’ football coach Henry Russell “Red” Sanders.
Whoever said it was wrong.
Winning is neither everything nor the only thing.
Sometimes, losing — and losing, and then losing some more — is the greater test of character. Losing often tears a team apart. But when it has the opposite effect, when adversity brings a team together, makes it more determined to persist, which is the more noble thing?
Easy wins? Or tough losses?
It’s easy to be dedicated to a sport you always win. The rewards are constant and many: glowing media coverage, end-of-season awards, postseason play.
It’s also easy to be a fan of a team that’s a perennial winner.
New England Patriots fans, New York Yankees fans: How much grit does it take to be devoted to a team that rewards your devotion over and over again?
But to root for a Philadelphia team? That takes real dedication (and truckloads of antacids). And to root for the Ephrata Mounts? To turn out Friday night after Friday night to watch football games whose conclusions seem foregone before the kickoff? That takes heart.
Look at the faces of the Ephrata fans in the photo above. Look at the joy. It was a long time coming.
It takes heart to play for such a team, too.
A kid playing midget football doesn’t dream of joining a team with a 52-game losing streak. He dreams of leading his team to a district championship game at Hersheypark Stadium.
What, then, to make of those who willingly signed up for a team known mostly for losing? Were they spurred by a desire to remake the team’s reputation? Fueled by love of the game? A stubborn affinity for the purple and gold? Family tradition? Ephrata pride?
As LNP staff writer Jeff Reinhart noted in his L-L League Section Three season preview, the Mounts have 19 returning starters this year. So it’s not as if the players aren’t familiar with the particular pain and embarrassment of enduring a winless season. And still they returned, knowing it was possible that they could surpass Kutztown High School’s state record-setting, 58-game losing streak this very season.
Whatever led them to be on that football field Saturday, squaring off against the Northern Lebanon Vikings, we salute the Mounts’ players and coaches.
We also laud Northern Lebanon head coach Roy Wall, who reacted classily to his team’s defeat.
He noted that the Ephrata head coach, Kris Miller, had been “with me early on. I’m happy for him. I would have preferred it hadn’t happened against us, but I’m happy they got their first win.”
We should note that the game was played a day later than scheduled, and moved to Ephrata, because Friday night’s ferocious rains and flash floods rendered Northern Lebanon’s football field unsuitable for hosting a game.
Coach Wall could have chosen to complain about the loss of home-field advantage, and we would have understood. Instead, he stayed squarely on the high road. And in so doing, he showed us — and more importantly, his players —\!q what character and sportsmanship look like.
In his season preview, LNP’s Reinhart wrote this: “Ephrata will win this season, folks. Book it.”
Reinhart thought the win would come early in the season, and it did — in the second game.
Maybe it took the presence of a player named Miracle Wratto — who ran in the final Ephrata touchdown — to snap the losing streak.
Ephrata quarterback Caden Keefer said, of his team’s victory, “I just know I want more of this.”
We wish him and his teammates the best. But having experienced defeat after defeat, and still persevering, they were winners, in our view, before they even took the field Saturday.