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"Grin Iron" all-star football game a smile-worthy benefit

Friday, June 4, 2010

Football Swan Song. The Grin Iron Classic football all-star game today is outgoing Monett athletic director and football coach Alan Spencer's final project representing the school. Spencer retires from education after a distinguished 35-year career.

"We play to honor those who came before us and strive to raise the bar for the future," is the mantra Monett football coach Alan Spencer brought to his 35-year career.

His vision lives on in the annual Grin Iron Classic East-West football fundraiser all-star game, being held on Friday (today) at JFK Stadium in Springfield. The event, sponsored by Sertoma, Heart of the Ozarks Club, is a match-up of the premier senior high school football players from southwestern Missouri.

It would be easy to call it the culmination of Spencer's career, but the journeyman coach and retiring Cubs' athletic director still has too much football left in him to call it quits just yet. Regardless what colors are worn by the next defensive line he shapes somewhere in the Ozarks, his philosophy will live on in the annual Grin Iron event, which raises money for the Ronald McDonald Care Mobile ("The Tooth Truck"), providing dental care for the indigent.

Senior Jason Obermann, a two-time first team all-state defensive lineman, is one of two Monett Cubs chosen to play in the Grin Iron Classic football all-star game at Springfield tonight. Like most of the roster of exceptional prep football players, the week marks the end of his football playing days. Obermann will begin studies at Missouri State University in the fall. [Times Photos by R.K. Wilson]
The fundraiser game was an idea Spencer hatched with fellow coach Reuben Berry many moons ago, but it sat on the shelf for a decade before the Southwest Missouri Coaches Association was approached by the Sertoma Club to inaugurate a benefit game.

Nine games later, Spencer's brainchild is the swan song football week for many of the region's outstanding prep players. With a dividing line of Missouri Highway 65, the east-west contest is chockfull of star gamers who, for the most part, aren't going to play collegiate football. From the far flung schools of Camdenton and Thayer to Lamar and Seneca, it's a final hundred-yard hurrah for the pigskin warriors in their physical prime.

Monett's two-time all-state defensive lineman Jason Obermann is a prime example. He's headed to Missouri State University in Springfield for studies that will lead to a career in veterinary medicine.

"I'm really going to miss football -- it's such a great sport," said Obermann after practice Wednesday. "I have fond memories but it's time to say goodbye to it."

Be it herding fussy bovines on the family dairy farm or blowing up pitchouts behind the line of scrimmage, Obermann's wonder years near Freistatt has enabled this fun-loving yet serious-minded young man to build a progressive life based on an inherrent work ethic.

"This game is the chance to lay it on the line and have fun with it," said Obermann.

On the eve of signing a letter of intent to play collegiate baseball, Monett defensive back Spenser Witt is enjoying a last go at football.

"It's 'Friday night lights'," said Witt. "With baseball, the crowd is family. Football is such a great spectator sport -- everybody comes to see it."

For Coach Spencer, the $35,000 fundraiser game is a capstone to a life devoted to growing kids in towns dotted throughout the Ozarks. Few folks are aware that this unassuming gentleman holds multiple degrees, including one in engineering. But it was athletics that proved to be the gateway to his career in education, helping kids navigate their way to adulthood.

If teaching his players respect for the tenets of athletic competition was job one, the philosophy of his life's work comes from the same tree of simplicity.

"It's for the kids, it's for the community," he concluded.

The Grin Iron Classic high school football all-star game is at Springfield's JFK Stadium, located at Parkview High School, on Friday night at 7 p.m.

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