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Homecoming day in Old Lyme

Old Lyme — History was honored, and made, at James Gardner Field on Saturday.

There was a football game played at Lyme-Old Lyme High School for the first time since 1943, when the school was known as Old Lyme High School.

And two of the players from that era, when they played six-on-six football, were honored before and after the game.

George King, who played quarterback — and just about every other position on the 1941 team — tossed the ceremonial coin before the game. The 91-year-old King is the father of Valley Regional/Old Lyme coach Tim King.

And 89-year-old Tim Keenan, Tim King’s great uncle and George King’s wife’s uncle, was the captain of Old Lyme’s 1942 team.

“They elected me captain when they found out I had played 11-on-11 football in New Jersey,’’ Keenan said with a smile.

Football disbanded after the 1943 season, in large part due to young men leaving to fight in World War II. Soccer replaced football in 1944 at Old Lyme and, as retired Old Lyme athletic director Rob Roach pointed out, pictures from that era show the first three soccer teams wore the old football uniforms.

But football was officially over in Old Lyme, and soccer would take over. The Wildcats of Jim Gardner won state titles in 1966, 1969, 1974 and 1977. Then, beginning in 2006, Valley Regional became a cooperative high school football program and started taking Old Lyme kids. But, until Saturday, all home games were played at Valley’s home field in Deep River.

“The Old Lyme people have been such a huge part of our program that it’s nice to give something back to the community,’’ said Tim King, an Old Lyme native.

Enter current Old Lyme athletic director Bill Buscetto, who met with Valley Regional athletic director Jeff Swan and decided to play a game in Old Lyme. It’s something they hope becomes a tradition.

“I always thought ... maybe someday,’’ said George King on the sport’s return. “When Timmy asked me what I thought, I told him I thought it was wonderful.’’

Old Lyme had permanent bleachers installed, brought in portable goal posts and football was ready to return. And more than 1,500 spectators, on a perfect early fall Saturday, watched Valley/Old Lyme improve to 3-0 with a 42-7 win over Baldwin Bridge rival Old Saybrook/Westbrook.

“This is a Norman Rockwell type of day,’’ said Keenan. “It’s just too bad it’s not a better game.’’

This year’s team has 32 players from Valley and 20 from Old Lyme. And Tim King started the game off, with a tip of the hat to Old Lyme. Senior offensive guard Tajhay Marshall, an Old Lyme student, was moved to running back for the first play of the game, and junior Matt Robertson, another Old Lyme student, filled Marshall’s guard spot. Marshall picked up 2 yards on the run.

“To have our fans come here to our place ... I felt even more pumped up,’’ said Marshall.

George King and Keenan were each presented with game balls after the victory, which Tim King is having the entire team sign.

“I’m exhausted,’’ said Tim King. “I didn’t get much sleep last night, knowing the type of day it was going to be. I knew that this was a big day for my dad and my uncle.’’

George King, who moved to Dade City, Fla., in 2006, retired from Pfizer in 1982. He attended the University of North Carolina after graduating from Old Lyme. He was drafted into the Army on Feb. 12, 1943, and fought in Europe, serving until October 1945. He was in the 8th Army Corps and met Gen. George Patton while directing traffic near Bastogne, Belgium.

Keenan, who served in the Army’s 127th Airborne Engineer Battalion as a paratrooper, was captured during the Siege of Bastogne — part of the larger Battle of the Bulge — on Jan. 4, 1945. He was a prisoner of war in two different camps in Germany before being liberated exactly three months later. He returned to Old Lyme, where he still lives, and retired in 1980 after a long career at the Old Lyme post office.

Even the coin had a story Saturday. Former Valley Regional player Jim Sypher, the first sergeant of Company C of the National Guard in New Britain, presented the coin to Tim King a few years ago upon returning from Afghanistan. Sypher tossed the coin, which was presented to him by his sergeant major for his performance, before the 2010 Thanksgiving Day game. He then passed it on to King to use in important games.

George King tossed Sypher’s coin, bringing together Valley Regional and Old Lyme again.

“That was fantastic,’’ said George King. “Something that you dream is going to happen.’’

Keenan agreed.

“It’s a good day. I really enjoyed it,’’ said Keenan. “I didn’t expect this.’’

d.davis@theday.com

Twitter: @DaveDavis522

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