MYERSTOWN -- A youth football team in Lebanon County is still trying to bounce back from its most devastating loss of the season – the death of one of its head coaches.
CBS 21 News Sports Director Jason Bristol notes there is a couple of things you need to know about the Myerstown Panthers.
Any kid can play; and no one pays a dime to step onto the field.
That’s just the way things are under the guidance of the team’s co-head coaches for the past 40 years: Bill Rager and his younger brother, Roy. The two men coached hundred of games and together tried to turn boys into young men.
"We talked last year and we were almost sure this would be our last year,” said Bill. “Obviously it was Roy's (last year).”
Roy collapsed on the sideline during the Panthers’ first game of the season. He suffered a massive heart attack and died two days later.
Roy Rager was 65.
“I would say he was just a great coach; he kind of made everyone feel good when they stepped onto the football field," said Hunter Witters, one of the team’s linebackers.
“He was a really big part of our family,” added Shawn Price, another Panthers player. “My brother took it really hard. I really miss him, too." Everyone misses Roy.
He was the brains behind each play. He was also around so long, he coached the Panthers’ assistant coaches.
And the team hasn’t had new uniforms in roughly 25 years, said team booster Missy Coomer, whose son plays on this year’s team. Most youth teams charge between $50 and $135 for children to play football. The Myerstown program does not have a fee.
She said Roy believed that having enough room for all kids to play was more important than spending money on fancy jerseys each year.
Bill Rager admits it hasn’t been easy being on the field without his brother.
But the Panthers – with the initials “RR” affixed to their helmets – have put their sadness to the side and will finish the season with a winning record. The team’s final game of the season is Tuesday, November 1.
“We don't have the best equipment and we don't have the best uniforms,” said Coomer."But we bring a lot of heart to the field, each and every day."
Coomer should know. Remember how anyone here can play? She played linebacker on an all-star team once coached by Roy Rager.
Football is about teamwork, discipline and just being together. The Ragers wouldn’t have it any other way. ”I think he'd be glad it happened here,” said Bill, before pausing. “Because he did go down on (this) field.”
No one’s sure how the team will remember this season.
But there’s a couple of more things you should know about football and this community: Myerstown loves its Panthers; and the Panthers loved Roy Rager.