The saying goes, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”
At East Carter High School, the trash man IS the treasure.
East Carter’s football program is thankful for Super Fan Frank Rice — and the feeling is mutual.
The owner of Grayson Sanitation Inc., Rice says he’s “just a dumb, old garbage man,” but the 68-year-old is much more than that in his hometown.
“Three things are certain in life: Death, taxes and Frank Rice is going to be at an East Carter football game,” said Raiders coach Tim Champlin. Rice has attended 303 consecutive East Carter-involved contests.
Rice is elated to have an opportunity to see his beloved Raiders take Steve Womack Field on Friday night for the program’s first state semifinal game. East Carter (11-3) will host perennial powerhouse Belfry (7-6) in the Class 3A playoffs.
“This is killer,” Rice said on Wednesday. “It’s the playoffs, and being able to go and watch East Carter play, and still be at home on the Friday night after Thanksgiving, that’s just awesome.”
Rice and his EC Raiders garbage truck are mainstays in the fall. Every year for about the past 30 or so, the team poses around and on Rice’s hydraulic truck for a photo. Rice climbs atop along with the seniors.
East Carter’s most loyal follower initially watched games in 1988 and again in 1990 and ’91 when his oldest son, Frank, was a Raider. His son Travis suited up for East Carter from 1991-94. Rich Waggoner, Rice’s brother in-law, played from 1992-95.
Rice’s wife, Robin, typically doesn’t attend. However, she came Oct. 22 and saw the Raiders topple Russell, 42-29.
“I told her she needed to start coming again after that,” he said with a chuckle. She’s missed one since, but the Raiders are riding a six-game winning streak.
Rice, a Prichard High School graduate, never played — Prichard didn’t have a team — and he doesn’t claim to be a football expert, but he’s seen enough to know why this year’s Raiders have risen to new heights.
“They just know each other so well,” Rice said. “They’ve played ball for so many years together. When you’re around each other so much, you’re like family. This is a bonded group of boys; they’re well-talented and love football.”
Since 1990 — a season following East Carter’s only other 11-win campaign — Rice has missed one East Carter game. Due to a transportation mix-up, he wasn’t there when the Raiders edged Fleming County, 15-14, under the direction of Garry McPeek in 1993.
The school honored Rice with a wooden plaque on Friday, Oct. 29, for spectating his 300th straight Raiders football game.
Every home-game first down is “brought to you by Grayson Sanitation.” PA announcer Ben James has allowed Rice to finish the sentence a couple times recently, placing the microphone in front of the sanitation specialist. James will say, “That first down is brought to you by,” and Rice replies, “me!”
Over the last 303 games, East Carter doesn’t possess the prettiest record — 120-183, to be exact.
Rice despises any negative chatter, though.
“I always got on people that say, ‘well, they ain’t very good,’” Rice said. “When you’re down and out, that’s when you need more help than ever. We gotta let these kids know you still care about them.”
Rice has the Raiders’ collective backs. Champlin recognized his dedication from the start. He grabbed the reins as head coach in 2015.
“I’ll never forget when I took over and we had our first parent meeting,” Champlin recalled. “One of the things I said was that practices are open to parents, that the only time we ever close practice was for camp — that’s for just coaches and players. ... I got done with that meeting, and an hour later, I got a call from Frank Rice. He said, ‘I heard what you said tonight, and now, I don’t have a kid playing, but ... .’ I said, ‘Frank, you’re more than welcome to be there (at camp).’ I couldn’t shun him away.”
Rice said Champlin’s energy and enthusiasm have done wonders for the program.
“He’s just a great guy,” Rice said. “He’s a good person, all-around, on and off the field. I think the world of him.”
Rice has grown close to the entire coaching staff, he said, and of course the team. He sticks with the Raiders through both the challenging and triumphant times — as well as good weather and bad, Champlin said.
“Tragedies happen,” said Rice, working to fight off tears. “Like when the Kiser boys’ mom died. It tore us all apart.”
Rice was referring to Stacy Kiser, who died on Sept. 17, 2020. Sons Braydon and Bryson wear No. 9 and 56, respectively, for the Raiders. Braydon is a junior, Bryson a senior.
“She’s still with us, in spirit,” Rice said. “Her boys went along and they’re doing what Stacy would want them to do.”
Rice hesitated to answer when asked if this is the best East Carter team he’s witnessed, but he ultimately acknowledged that these Raiders’ accomplishments speak for themselves.
“They started from the time they walked,” he said. “When they get on that football field, they give it all they’ve got. They make mistakes, but it ain’t because they ain’t trying.”
Belfry will roll into Grayson on Friday for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff. Rice will, of course, be in attendance, “Lord willin’,” he said.
(606) 326-2664 |