J. Wallace Bolding Stadium, where the Annandale High School Atoms have been playing their home football games since 1960, is a garden of tradition.
Tonight, on that stretch of grass crammed among the school's baseball fields, tennis courts and neighboring houses, Annandale will be celebrating that tradition as part of a weekend reunion for those who have played in the school's red and white. Teams of each decade, dating to the school's opening in 1954, will be honored during halftime of tonight's game against third-ranked West Potomac.
Forty-six years of football, six state titles. Four coaches.
Two of those coaches will be in attendance tonight: Dick Adams, 42, is in his 10th season and has won state titles in 1993 and 1994; and Bob Hardage, 64, who guided the Atoms from 1966 through 1989, winning state titles in 1967, 1972 and 1978.
Ed Henry, Annandale's coach from 1957 through 1965, is in Jacksonville, Fla., and could not make the trip. Weekend organizers have been unable to locate Larry Winkler, who coached the Atoms those first three seasons. But Henry, 70, is loaded with memories, including the story of how Bolding was built.
Before that 1960 season, Fairfax County transformed a pasture marked with white yard lines, as Henry described it, into an athletic field with a crown and drainage system. The county installed bleachers, but would not pay for lights. So members of the Annandale community raised the money for lights.
Two days before the first night game at the school, they discovered they were $2,000 short for the hookup fee for the lights.
"The only way to raise the money was to have all the students join the booster club for one dollar," said Hardage, an Atoms' assistant at the time. "Just like everything else, everybody kind of bought into the program."
Adams, who came up with the idea to hold the 46-year reunion, expects close to 200 former players to attend.
"We had been kind of kicking [the idea of a reunion] around for awhile," Adams said. "It's just a way of getting together everybody who had ever played. At Annandale, it is kind of unique. There have only been four coaches in 46 years."
A banquet commemorating Annandale's football teams will be held Saturday at the Sheraton Premiere in Tysons Corner, where organizers will show game films and display memorabilia. They will also show a 20-minute highlight videotape and broadcast parts of an interview with Henry done just for the occasion.
Although Annandale has been one of the Washington area's most successful football programs over the past four decades, it has not produced many well-known players. Perhaps the best known was former Virginia Tech and New England Patriots wide receiver Ray Crittenden, whose younger brother, Derrick, is a senior wide receiver at Boston College.
Among other football alumni are former University of Maryland quarterback Dan Henning, former University of Virginia wide receiver Tommy Fadden and current Penn State University linebacker Maurice Daniels.
"The one thing that stands out in my mind is that we had outstanding football teams with youngsters who didn't have the greatest ability in the world," said Hardage, after whom the school has named its gym. "We didn't have that many superstars. . . . We never really had a guy who was a great player on the professional level."
What they lack in talent, the Atoms have made up for in tradition. They have a unique logo, a capital 'A' surrounded by neutrons. There's also a fight song players sing after victories as they run to the stands where their fans sit. After a home victory, the band follows the team to the locker room and plays the song one more time.
"[Annandale] is special in the sense that they have maintained a solid program for a number of years and had stability," said Henry, who later coached at Marshall, Robinson, Virginia Military Institute and the University of Virginia. "They deserve a lot of credit, especially lately. The tradition is obviously there."
Said former West Potomac and Chantilly coach Danny Meier: "All head coaches try to instill a sense of tradition and school spirit and pride. And because of the tradition they have at Annandale, I think they have done that. . . . In such a transient area, they have done as good a job as anybody instilling and promoting school spirit and their mystique."
While Adams has attempted to maintain the tradition built by Henry and Hardage, he also has tried to create some new traditions. On game days, players give their jersey to a teacher or administrator to wear that day. The pregame meal has been cooked by home economics teacher Sarah Hrobowski for the past four seasons, Adams said.
The tradition is one reason many alumni will return this weekend, according to Joe Kroger, a 1976 graduate who helped organize the weekend and put together the videotape.
"Why in God's name does anyone get excited about their high school football reunion?" said Kroger, a former offensive lineman. "It's a winning program. . . . And, as much as anything, it was a very formidable time in people's lives when you learned to succeed."
Adams said he regularly sees former players who live in the area and that the low coaching turnover at Annandale keeps them coming back.
"The guys that come back, the older fellas, it's like always coming back to see your old coach instead of somebody you don't know," Adams said.
Jeremiah Davis, a defensive lineman on this year's Atoms who has committed verbally to Penn State, said he is looking forward to meeting those who started and built on the school's traditions before he arrived.
"I would like to get to know them as much as they would like to get to know me," he said. "I really want to meet a lot of people from the state championship teams. That's our goal, too, to win a state championship."
Hardage, now commissioner of the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference, looks forward to tonight's opportunity to renew old acquaintances.
"It's going to be a great time and a great opportunity to tell old war stories," he said.
CAPTION: Current coach Dick Adams, left, former coach Bob Hardage are part of Annandale legacy that includes six state titles.