The 'dean' of Staples football
Published 5:52 pm, Thursday, November 4, 2010
He can tell you about games played back when the school was still on Riverside Avenue.
He can tell you about coach Frank Dornfeld and the undefeated 1952 squad. Then, he can fill you in on the heroics of Lance Lonergan, who led the Wreckers to a division title in 1984 and went on to play quarterback at Penn State.
And now, after Saturday morning, he can let you know about the story of a kid named Tyler Jacobs who grabbed four interceptions, only the third player in Staples football history to accomplish that feat.
Marks, 90, can tell you all of that because he was there. He saw it, right from his seat on the 50-yard-line, at the top of the bleachers.
Although Marks, who is quiet and contemplative while watching games, instead of loud and boisterous like many fans today, says he doesn't remember exactly when he started coming to games, he says he knows it was "a long time ago." He also says he has seen "a lot of games," starting, basically, when the team itself started playing.
"That's a hard question, how many games have they played here?" he asks when questioned on how many games he has seen. "I've been to them all."
There have been so many good teams, he says, but he can't pick out just one, especially since he goes all the way back to the days of coach Roland Wachob in the 1930s. But he has a special sense of pride for every Staples team, good or bad.
A love of the game has brought Marks, Westport born and bred, to Staples football for somewhere around 540 contests over 75 years. He has seen the ups and the downs of the Wreckers and has been unwavering in his support all along.
"I've been right here, in the same seat, the same place every week," says Marks, who still drives himself to the home games.
On Saturday morning, the last weekend of October, Marks is back in his seat, ready to watch Staples take on Fairfield Ludlowe. His blue, Staples "S" hat is fixed squarely on his head and binoculars rest around his neck, so he can get a good view of the action.
Marks was born before the program was and has watched it grow from a team that played on a small grass field along the Saugatuck River in front of a few students and parents, to a program that takes to the turf each week on artificial grass in front of screaming students, lifelong fans and a blaring marching band.
"It's a big difference," Marks says. "We didn't have big crowds back then. We didn't have a band then, at the games. When I was in high school I played in the band, but they only used it in the parade."
A Westport police officer for nearly three decades, rising to the rank of lieutenant, Marks is not the only Staples fan to show the dedication that he does. But Marks is the only one to have done it for so long.
Other fans, like Jeff Crane, who has come to the games since 1995 and always sits to the right of Marks, or Watts Wacker, who has been at Marks' left for many years and started coming to games when his son was playing, now 17 years ago, or Greg Vogt, who has logged 15 years of Staples games, appreciate what Marks means to Staples and to the community. They have been right alongside him for many years, home games and away games, for tournaments and titles.
"George is the dean," Crane says.
Wacker, who Marks calls the "bellringer," a nod to the cowbell he rings throughout the game, says Marks is "our oldest fan. He is our source of inspiration." He is the parent of a 2000 graduate of Staples, Cal Wacker, an offensive lineman who went on to play at Carneige Mellon University.
Wacker not only rings a bell every game, but also dons a silver Staples hard hat, adorned with helmet stickers in the shape of a hammer, one for each championship the Wreckers have won, minus one. "He owes me a hammer from last season's [FCIAC] championship," Wacker says of head coach Marce Petroccio.
Vogt, as he stops by to say hello to Marks during halftime, says that Marks has "been at every game I've been at. He is the ambassador of our group."
Staples fans respect Marks' spot in the stadium. Every week he is there. "If we get here and he isn't here, we get nervous," says Crane.
"We make sure he gets to every game," says Wacker, who helps out by driving Marks when Staples plays on the road.
Marks says the only time that Staples lost last season, a 28-21 defeat at the hands of Cheshire in the state championship game in West Haven, was because a little girl took his seat at the 50-yard-line. "A 10-year-old girl who probably had never been to a game before in her life," he says.
Crane, who started coming to games when his daughter, Amy, was a cheerleader, says that would have to happen on the road, because everyone at Staples knows not to take Marks' seat. Because, he says, football fans are creatures of habit and superstition, referencing the Staples hat he is wearing, the same worn to each game since 1995.
To the group of dedicated fans, it is more than just the football, although that is a major part of it.
"They all know football very well," Marks says, "A lot of them had kids who played."
Crane and Vogt both say that they enjoy the camaraderie of going to the games every week. "It is a whole social event," Crane says. He also adds that meeting new groups of senior parents each season is another aspect that makes going to the games worthwhile.
"It is a community," says Wacker. "And George is a symbol of what we are all about."
Sitting in his seat, his hands resting gently on a cane, Marks is greeted by smiles as fans fill the seats around him on this past Saturday morning, waiting for an unusual 10 a.m. start, a time Marks said will probably effect attendance. Not for Staples, of course, but for the visiting team.
"Look at the stands over there," Marks says, motioning to the opposite side of the field where the bleachers for opposing fans are in place, behind this week's opponent, Fairfield Ludlowe's bench. "This is what happened last week [when Staples defeated Harding], three people in the stands, the whole game. That is awful." Later as the game grows closer, Marks again glances across the way, where the stands have filled in slightly, but are still mostly empty. "It is a disgrace, there should be at least one parent per player, where are they?" he asks.
For a man who has been to so many football games in his life, simply to enjoy the game and root on generations and generations of players, it is impossible to understand why parents would not turn out to see their sons play, even on the road.
Marks, who served as the head of the detective bureau in Westport for many years, did not play football in high school, "I was too small," he says. Neither did either of his sons, George Jr., who would follow in his footsteps as a Westport police officer, nor his youngest son Bill. The elder Marks and his wife, Irene, also have a daughter, Sandra. This past Memorial Day, the two George Marks, Sr. and Jr., marched together as Grand Marshals of the town's parade.
A 1938 graduate of Staples, back when it was still located on Riverside Avenue, Marks said the town is "not the nice little village it used to be." After graduation he found a job as a pressman for the Westporter Herald before heading off to serve in the military, giving him a valid excuse for any Staples games he may have missed during that time. He served in the Merchant Marines, Naval Reserve, Coast Guard and Army, earning honorable discharges from each. A lifetime member of the American Legion, Marks returned to Westport and joined the police force in 1948.
Being a football fan is a main reason he keeps coming back. When he was a Westport police officer, he often worked security at the Sunday games played by the semi-professional Westport Advertisers, who used the Riverside Avenue field at the old Staples. Football is simply a sport Marks can't get enough of.
As Marks watches the play on the field, his group of friends and fellow fans surrounds him.
Wacker says the community aspect is something that has grown as the Staples program has developed. From parents to supporters and students to those who work in the concession stand every week, all of Westport seems to want to see Staples succeed. It is that pride and tradition, Wacker says, along with unique aspects such as being one of the last schools in the state to not install lights to play on Friday nights, that make coming to Staples games such a major part of so many lives.
The stories they have will continue to push the program ahead.
"These are the historians," says Crane, referencing himself, Wacker and Marks as they discuss the name of the starting tailback for the 2000 team that defeated Greenwich (Matt Makovsky). It will be fans like Wacker and Crane who carry on the tradition of Staples football, the Wrecker pride, tales and history.
One day it will be them, telling younger generations of fans about the season Jimmy Hughes threw 38 touchdowns (2003) or the time Staples won the FCIAC championship but came up short in the state title. And they will talk about the time Jacobs had four interceptions against Ludlowe on Homecoming. They will talk about all that comes next for the Wreckers. They will carry on the tradition.
But, they will continue to say that Marks has left an indelible imprint on the football program, whether or not he wants to acknowledge that fact, and that seat at the 50-yard-line, dead center, all the way at the top of the bleachers, will always be his in the eyes of true Staples fans.