Details of the game that September day in 2001 have faded from Keith Beckley’s memory.
He played linebacker and running back for Carrollton High School his senior year and his performance against Canton Central Catholic in The Repository’s initial First Down Showdown must have been solid because he was named most valuable player for the Warriors.
Beckley can’t recall if he made a lot of tackles or tallied a lot of yardage. But the MVP award came with a prize, a free ride for him and a friend aboard the Goodyear blimp.
Beckley planned to take his girlfriend, Amanda. His mother, Lori Burnside, offered to help make arrangements. There were telephone calls and canceled dates because of weather problems and other commitments. Goodyear went through the process of building and commissioning a new line of blimps.
As time passed, Beckley forgot about the blimp ride. Life took over. He went off to college, found a job, got married and started a family.
Burnside hung onto the letter acknowledging her son’s prize, even after moving from Carrollton to the Pittsburgh area.
“I kept it in my purse all this time,” she said.
Occasionally while rifling through her purse, Burnside would come across the paper and make a call to Goodyear. Everything finally worked out last month. Wingfoot Three based at Wingfoot Lake in Suffield would be in the area and available for rides on Oct. 27. Beckley had the day off from work.
“My mom, she stayed on it all this time,” said Beckley, who now lives in Louisville and works as an environmental health and safety contractor in the Appalachian oil fields.
“I just wanted to make sure it happened for him,” Burnside said.
Goodyear uses its three blimps — the others are in Pompano Beach, Fla., and Carson, Calif. — for promotions and marketing. The airships are common sights over sporting events around the country. You can’t buy tickets for a trip, although rides often are prizes at local charity events. Goodyear also offers rides to vendors and tire dealers.
When someone wins an opportunity for a ride, as Beckley did, Goodyear works to let them redeem their prize, said Ed Ogden, public relations manager for Goodyear Airship Operations. The rides are scheduled around television schedules and other events, he said. There are instances where it has taken a while to get a rider on board, but Ogden doesn’t recall anyone trying for 17 years to get their ride.
Wingfoot Three took Beckley over southeast Akron, where Goodyear is headquartered. He likened the ride to being in a single engine airplane but quieter. It remained below the clouds and the view was great, he said.
His companion on the ride was the girlfriend he planned to take all those years ago, although Amanda now is his wife of 12 years.
“It’s pretty neat to be part of it,” Beckley said.
Reach Edd at 330-580-8484 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @epritchardREP.