Nine months to wait for the birth of a baby may seem typical, but nine months between high-school football games often feels like an eternity — and that’s how long it’s been since East Bladen and West Bladen have laced up the cleats, slipped on the shoulder pads and snapped on the helmets for a gridiron game that counts.
All that ends Friday for the Eagles and Knights, as they kick off the season with non-conference games. East Bladen opens at home against South Columbus and West Bladen travels to South Robeson.
But there will be a few changes obvious right from the start.
— New times: All of East Bladen’s and West Bladen’s games will start 30 minutes earlier than in the past, at 7 p.m. Most teams in the region have adopted the new kickoff time.
However, one game on the East Bladen schedule — when the Eagles travel to Wilmington Laney on Sept. 16 — remains a 7:30 p.m. start.
— Airwaves going silent: Despite exhausting every possible scenario to keep the Bladen Sports Network on the air after the sale of Cool 105.3 FM in Whiteville, Ricky Leinwand said a deal couldn’t be reached with any area radio station.
Leinwand also said the crew was facing the loss of long-time radio broadcaster Robert Hester, who had retired from the booth recently named after him in the East Bladen press box after decades of work calling Eagles and Knights football games.
Also moving on from the radio broadcasts was Dan Allen, who handled the broadcast’s technical aspects.
— New QB1s: Both the Eagles and Knights will take the field Friday with new quarterbacks leading the offense.
East Bladen will see junior Quinton Bedsole under center, while West Bladen has senior Weston Pidgeon taking snaps.
Though the Eagles will rely on its patented strong running game with a solid stable of running backs anchored by seniors Kyle Tatum, Ethan Hines and Eian Hines, coach Robby Priest is hoping Bedsole will be able to give them some occasional air support hooking up with speedy wide receiver Sincere Smith and others.
West Bladen coach Todd Pait is looking for the versatile Pidgeon to give the Knights a balanced attack handing off to a pair of strong running backs in James Moore and B.J. Drake, or targeting a swift pair of wide receivers in Shaquille Johnson and Dayvon Swindell.
One thing will be coming to an end this season — this will be the swan song for the Bladen County teams competing in the Four County Conference. Next season the Eagles and Knights will move to a new conference featuring Columbus County and Robeson County teams.
W. Curt Vincent can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.