WHEELING - Football has a way of bringing people together.
Just ask Mike Herrick and Larry Yanda.
During their high school days, the two toiled against each other at Mingo and Dillonvale high schools, respectively.
Photo by RICK THORP
Mike Herrick, left, and Larry Yanda look over some old photos during Monday’s get together at WesBanco Arena in Wheeling.
But in the summer of 1962, the pair became united.
Selected to play for Coach Andy Urbanic and the Ohio squad in the OVAC All-Star Game, Herrick and Yanda spent two weeks roomed together at West Liberty State College. That sparked a friendship that has lasted more than 50 years.
''After we graduated from high school he and I went to Bethany College and played football and roomed together,'' Herrick said. ''We won a couple of championships at Bethany. And ever since, we've been friends for all these years.
''It all started with (the all-star) game.''
Herrick and Yanda were two of a handful of players from the 1961 and 1962 summer gleam games that gathered for an intimate luncheon Monday in WesBanco Arena's Health Plan Pavilion.
There were plenty of handshakes, hugs and stories to go around. That's par for the course for the former players, who've been invited back by the bi-state conference since 2007.
''It's exciting to come back,'' Yanda said.
That sentiment was echoed throughout the room by the players who will be honored at the 68th annual Rudy Mumley OVAC Football Charity Classic on Sunday, July 28, at Wheeling Island Stadium.
The main purpose of Monday's event was to apprise the legends about how they will be recognized at the game and the large slate of events leading up to it.
But as a sidebar, the players got an opportunity to see some faces some hadn't seen in nearly half a century. And once that happened, the memories flowed.
''I remember Mike tackling me a lot,'' Yanda recalled. ''All I remember hearing was 'Herrick on the tackle.' ''
That prompted Herrick, who coached at Mingo/Indian Creek from 1981-93, to recall what a ''terrific'' athlete Yanda was.
''He was very, very good,'' he said. ''I probably had to tackle him 22 or 23 times a game.''
Yanda quickly responded: ''Mike played defensive back and that's where he'd catch me.''
OVAC Executive Secretary Tom Rataiczak said, according to the conference's numbers, 3,649 men have suited up for the all-star game. It's a special fraternity the conference has made a conscious effort of honoring, both because it brings former teammates together and it connects the current players with the past.
Also in attendance were former Magnolia coach Bob Sullivan and ex-Bellaire boss Don Ault. The pair coached in the 1962 and 1961 games, respectively. Rataiczak believes this is the first year former coaches are returning for the reunion.
Both coaches had an opportunity to share some stories with the former players and relished an opportunity to step on the field one more time.
''The friendships you form are really great,'' Herrick said.