Mary Elyn Carroll says it's a family rule to never sit on the opposing team's side.
"My seat is top row, 50-yard line, season ticket holder," she wrote in an e-mail to The Herald. "YCHS Cougar Den! Go Cougars! Go, Spencer!''
The rule will be followed tonight even though Carroll's son Bobby will be walking the opposing team's sideline. Bobby Carroll is coach of the South Pointe Stallions, the state's top-ranked Class AAA team. A self-described "defensive guy," Carroll believes in pressuring the other team's quarterback. Hard.
Tonight, for about two hours at the York football stadium, that will mean pressuring his own son, Spencer, the Cougars' sophomore quarterback.
It also will mean that Bobby's mom will be pulling against him.
"But, you know, it's a win-win situation for me," Mary Elyn Carroll said. "It's my son's team against my grandson's team, and no matter who wins, I will be a winner too."
Mary Elyn has been involved with York high school sports for decades. She has missed just one football Friday night, home or away, since 1945. And that was because on Sept. 15, 1971, a Wednesday, she gave birth to the youngest of her four sons, Pete.
York, called the Green Dragons back then, had a home game that week.
"I told my husband, Neil, that he should go to the game and represent the family," she said. "I didn't realize the entire family would take me up on it. And come Friday night, it was me and Pete, alone, in the hospital.
"But it wasn't a problem, except I missed a game. My parents raised us to be competitive and took us to all the York sporting events. My mom played on a state championship basketball team in high school" in the early 1930s.
Mary Elyn said the competitive spirit never left her. She and Neil, who died in late 2004, passed it on to their children. Even Chinese Checkers was competitive between Mary Elyn and her siblings.
When her children were old enough to play games, Elyn said she would do her best to win every time the Candyland board was unfolded. She wanted to make sure her kids tried hard at everything they attempted. Letting up, she said, would not have been fair to them.
Bobby has been coaching for 28 years. A York resident, he waited for the day when he and his wife, Sherry, would talk with Spencer about his options. He could go to South Pointe with his dad, or stay in York.
His parents left him decide.
"Sherry and I knew that the day would come when I would have to coach against Spencer,'' he said. "We talked about it because he was moving up to the varsity this season and gave him his choices. He decided to stay in York with the boys he grew up playing with, and we have no problem with that because it's what he wanted to do.
"But sometimes it kills me. I'm a defensive guy and our objective every game is to go hard at the other team's quarterback. We have a couple of players who won't care whose son Spencer is. Our guys know what's going on. And they've known Spencer since they first started high school.''
Spencer is not big, listed at a questionable 5-foot-11, 160 pounds. But being a sophomore and not possessing a lot of bulk didn't prevent him from impressing York's first-year coach, Mike Propst, who handed him the keys to the Cougars' offense.
He has completed 93-of-172 passes for 1,214 yards and 10 touchdowns, putting him fifth among area quarterbacks.
Propst, who team is 3-6, said Spencer earned the job. He knows the game well and is a tough competitor. And because of his football background, Spencer seldom makes mistakes. Propst will put his team's playoff fate on the field against an 8-1 Stallions team.
Spencer learned the game from his dad. But since preseason practice in August, football has rarely been spoken at home. They talk about school, watch football games and go fishing together. Spencer is a good student and, according to Mary Elyn, is an avid reader.
Three times this season, Bobby has taken Spencer with him on recruiting trips with defensive ends Jadeveon Clowney and Gerald Dixon to Alabama, Clemson and Georgia Tech. The players are friends who cut up with each other. They have been talking trash back-and-forth about tonight's game.
Clowney, regarded as the top overall high school player in the nation by most recruiting services, and Dixon are well known by college football recruiters. That's why it's hard for Bobby to think about them rushing at his son, not that he'd ever tell them not to.
York upset Nation Ford last Thursday, giving the Cougars slight hope for making the Class AAA playoffs. The next night, with Spencer watching, South Pointe beat up on Chester.
Spencer and Clowney talked after the game, and Spencer was assured by his famous buddy that he'd take it easy on him.
"I don't want that,'' Spencer said. "I told JD to bring it on, that I'm not going to let up and neither should he. And if my dad told them to take it easy on me, I'd be embarrassed. You play football at full speed and with fire, and that's what can be expected from me.
"It's not going to be tough playing against my dad and his team. Blood is thicker than water, but not for about two hours on Friday night (tonight). Jadeveon, Gerald and myself have been cutting up with each other about this game all season. It's time to play, and I play to win every time I step on the field.''
He got that competitiveness from Mary Elyn. And he got it from Bobby, who said he competed with his three brothers growing up to see who could eat the most grits, run the fastest, kill the biggest deer or catch the biggest fish.
For Mary Elyn Carroll, there's no question who she wants to win tonight. Her late husband played sports at York. Her mom and dad played and her four sons played. She's particularly partial toward a photo "packed away somewhere'' of the 1929 York football team with its players wearing leather helmets.
Mary Elyn taught English, creative writing and psychology at York for 35 years before retiring in 1996. She kept the home scorebook at York basketball games for years. She saw the football team finish 10-0 the year she graduated, 1958, and has seen the school housed in four different buildings.
Mary Elyn supported Bobby when he played at York, when he was an assistant football coach at Northwestern and when he moved to South Pointe as head coach six years ago. He joked that when Spencer got to the varsity this year, the Stallions lost around 30 fans.
Sherry and Mary Elyn, along with a large group of relatives, will be in the stands early tonight. And each one of them, Mary Elyn said, will be pulling for York and Spencer.
"We have a special relationship and I'm very proud of him. I've been excited all week," she said. "When I look back over all these years of going to football games, I have just one regret. I wish Neil could have been here to see this. He would have been very proud.''