Who could have foreseen such a full and rewarding life for Al and Margaret Chroniger when they moved to their little 1 1/2-story home in the heart of Hyattsville 32 years ago?
They raised nine sons and one daughter, and eight of the boys played football for DeMatha High School. Now, they have 21 grandchildren (the boys outnumber the girls, 14-7, which sounds like a football score). Three grandsons are enrolled at DeMatha, at least two of whom will be playing football this fall. To have a grandson in a DeMatha uniform -- that's satisfaction of the purest sort to Al Chroniger.
"You don't know what a feeling that is until you have one," he said recently at his home.
High school football fans don't come any more loyal than the Chronigers. They could be found at almost every DeMatha game, home and away, even between Chroniger generations. When DeMatha kicks off, they're there. Freshman games, too. In winter, you'll find them at DeMatha basketball games.
They live only four blocks from DeMatha, and all those years, every day, the children would walk to school -- starting with Al, now 44, followed by Bernie, Bob, Jimmy, Billy, Michael, Richard, Joe and Pat. Margaret came along last, and she's a star on Mom's Bunch, Mom being Margaret Chroniger and the Bunch being the family softball team that recently won a Hyattsville co-ed league tournament championship.
"Yeah, I get all the credit," Margaret Chroniger said, not too seriously.
"They wanted to throw her in the air but she wouldn't let them," said Jane Chroniger, Bob's wife.
The oldest son, Al III, made second team all-Met as a DeMatha guard in the late '50s, and he and all his brothers had fun playing football, which is the important thing, said his father, a retired supervisor from the Naval Surface Weapons Center in Silver Spring.
None of his sons weighed more than 165 pounds when they played, and Bernie gave his parents a scare one day when he was chasing a St. John's quarterback and got blocked in a mid-air, helmet-to-helmet collision. "We didn't get anything out of Bernie until 2 o'clock in the morning," his father said.
It was a concussion. Three weeks later he was playing again. Can't keep a Chroniger down.
"The kid who plays sports -- not every one, don't get me wrong -- but, generally, the kid who plays sports has fewer problems meeting people, talking with people, than the average person who just hangs around the corner," Al Chroniger said.
An important thing to him, too, is that his boys have gone on to lead productive lives: there's a building contractor, two firemen, an electrician, two engineers, a plumber, a bus maintenance man for Metro and an electrical apprentice. "They're all outgoing, all great people," said Bob's wife Jane.
When a Chroniger gets involved in a project, everyone else in the family takes an interest. Two summers ago, Michael ran all the way from Washington to Two Rivers, Wis., for the benefit of cancer resarch. One week Bernie and his wife followed him in a camper. Another week Bernie's wife and Patrick followed. Then Mom and Dad took a turn.
"Ohio was very nice," Margaret said, "except that we were looking at it one mile at a time."
Now a big softball tournament is coming up. Bob is one of the directors of a firemen's tournament next weekend behind Rip's Inn, in Mitchellville. Teams are coming from all over the country -- almost 90 are expected.
The family basketball team -- The Chronigers -- plays in the Cheverly Men's League.
Al and Margaret attend all these games and more, including even various softball teams' practices. "I think it's much more fun to go out there and see kids who grew up in the neighborhood rather than a guy who gets paid $800,000," she said.
At DeMatha football games, Al sits up in the stands between the 20- and 30-yard lines. "I like to sit on an angle, to see the plays open up."
After DeMatha games, the family will gather at the homestead for a picnic in the backyard and everybody brings something and everybody helps put out the spread. "Nobody," said Al Chroniger, "sits on his duff and lets the other do it."
So it's never quiet around the Chroniger house, somebody's always in and out. It's just not as crowded as it once was when Al had to convert his upper half-story into a dormitory that held seven.
"We're a close family, among our sons and daughter," said Al Chroniger. "But we're also close among all the daughters-in-law."
A couple of daughters-in-law aren't even crazy about sports, he said. But they're accepted just the same. That's how the Chronigers are, a family.