The white goalposts stand at the ends of the field, silent sentries awaiting the opening game of high school football season.
When Frankton plays Anderson Preparatory Academy this Friday, it will renew an annual tradition in Madison County’s quintessential small town. The football field will again be the center of attention on Friday nights through the late summer and into the fall.
When you think of green spaces, you normally think of parks. But few parks generate the kind of excitement that radiates from a football field.
Out on the turf of Otis Cress Field, even when it stands devoid of another human soul on an unseasonably cool Friday afternoon, you get an inkling of the thunderous power of football.
Here and there, chunks of the sod have been torn up, and the bare earth is pocked with cleat marks where a determined lineman or darting running back clawed for leverage against a stubborn opponent.
Back to that name — Otis Cress Field. If you’re unfamiliar with Frankton football, you might assume that the namesake was a community donor, or perhaps a beloved athletic director. You might guess that he has passed on from this world, or at least that he has achieved retirement bliss.
You would be mistaken.
Otis Cress is the active coach of the Frankton Eagles football team. This will be his 29th season. He’s compiled a 176-122 record, and will be coaching his 300th game when the Eagles travel to rival Lapel Aug. 30.
It’s not very often that a man has a facility named after him when he still works there. That’s a show of tremendous respect, and it’s part of what makes Otis Cress Field a special place.
The folks in Frankton love their Eagles, that much is clear. A stylish painting of one spreads its wings across the front of the tan concessions building that greets visitors to the football field. And on the face of the press box that sits atop the home bleachers, a menacing wooden eagle with enormous wings stares (eagle-eyed) across the field at the opposing bleachers.
The football field is part of the FHS athletic complex next to the elementary school at the southeast edge of town. Varsity football games used to be played on the field at the high school buiding, which is closer to the heart of town. In the surrounding neighborhood, colorful flower beds and lush vegetable gardens flank modest homes. Cicadas buzz in the yards, accompanying a light breeze.
More than any other locality in Madison County, Frankton feels like the sort of small town that would make John Mellencamp sing. Alexandria touts itself as “Small Town USA,” but it’s really a city. Pendleton and Lapel are close enough to Interstate 69 to be affected, positively and negatively, by the proximity of Indianapolis. Markleville, Orestes and others are true small-towns, but they lack a high school.
Frankton has that, and it’s a source of community pride. Otis Cress Field will be the focal point of that community pride again this fall.
My column last week about Elwood’s Callaway Park was well received. But a few readers politely informed me that I had misspelled Wendell Willkie’s surname. Any Madison County journalist should know it has two l’s!