SPORTS ARTICLE from THE PRESS, 7-18-01,
By Matt Thornicroft
``Back in the game
AVON -- Unable to escape the lure of the sound of cracking pads, the feel of pounding hits and the sheer intensity that is the game of football, Avon High School alumnus Michael Beard has returned to the gridiron.
Beard, who hadn't played a down of football since the state semifinals during the Eagles magical season of 1996, is now a wide receiver for the Lorain Steelmen, a semi-professional football team in the pay-to-play American Football Association's Lake Shore League. It's been a long time coming for the former Eagle, who once had hopes of playing college ball. So far it's been a great experience.
"I like playing football," Beard said. "I've always wanted to play football. Playing is enough for me, being back in uniform."
The Steelmen were 1-0 heading into last weekend's game against the Cleveland Lions. They play their home games at Oberlin High School and take on teams from Michgan and all over Ohio, including Detroit, Battle Creek, Central Ohio, Lima and Tuscawaras. The Steelmen are a part of the American Football Association (AFA), representing 43 leagues and 376 teams nationwide.
Games are played on Saturday evenings, with practices once a week. All the players have full-time jobs. Beard is currently employed by D. Paul Kette Interiors.
Beard's football career took off in high school, which began at the now-defunct West Tech High School in Cleveland. It was a rough start.
Though he earned varsity letters for his freshman and sophomore seasons, he started on offense, defense and special teams with little breaks in between. By the end of his sophomore season at West Tech, which went 0-20 during his two years there, he finally had enough. Couple that experience with the imminent closure of the school the following year, it was time to move on ...
After scouting a few school systems his parents settled on and moved to Avon. They liked the system and the football program and felt that it would be a great place for a new start.
``I could've gone to another school in Cleveland, but my mom and dad wanted me to go to a better system, a better football team. Avon was the best place we could've come to."
The move turned out to be a great one. Beard found his niche with Avon, playing wide receiver, safety and returning punts and kickoffs. During his two seasons in Avon the Eagles compiled an 18-2 regular season record, 20-3 if you include the playoffs.
He also played a part on the Eagles 10-0 regular season in 1996, where the Eagles advanced to the state semifinals, falling to Marion Pleasant, 21-14. That season he earned Second-Team All-Northeast Lakes District honors.
He considered playing semi-pro football for the then-Vermilion Bulldogs (now the Lorain Steelmen), but still held out for a college offer. An arrangement to play at Ashland University fell through. For the first fall in many years Beard was without a team to play for.
He spent a quarter at Lorain County Community College and eventually entered the working world. He gave up on football until last year when he decided to play for the Steelmen.
"I was nervous at the first practice," Beard said. "There are some pretty big guys and anything can happen out there. I was out of shape a little bit, not too bad. There were some guys in worse condition than I was."
Probably the biggest hurdle for Beard was overcoming the cost to play. Semi-pro players must purchase their own equipment and provide their own transportation. It's a costly endeavor considering the entry fee alone costs $200. He spent roughly $500 on equipment. He got help however from his sponsor H&B Window Cleaning, Inc. owned by father-in-law John Aunspaw.
"If it wasn't for him, I don't know," he said. "He donated the money to help me get the equipment I needed. It took a lot of money to get it."
His wife and family has also been very supportive, even encouraging. They never miss a game and do what they can to help make him better ... ''
Avon to 1974