My first experience with Friday Football Extra came as an intern in 1994. But 10 years earlier, the program got its start. Ronald Reagan was president and Tina Turner's "What's Love Got To Do With It" was a number one single.
There was no internet or cell phones, so getting script information was often an adventure. But 30 years later, the show is still going strong.
John Kernan was the original host of Friday Football Extra. Kernan had wanted to do a half-hour weekend sports show, but Jim Shaver, WDBJ's News Director at the time, suggested a high school football show that was originally 15 minutes long.
When Kernan moved on to cover racing for ESPN, in stepped Mike Stevens who hosted the program for twenty years.
“No one had tried this before because the turnaround time was so quick and our geographic area in Southwest Virginia is so spread out that no one thought it could be done,” Stevens said. “When they proved it could, that's why we are here thirty years later.”
Mark Brown, now a Knoxville attorney, was the show's first producer as a 16-year-old student at Northside High School.
“We didn't really know what we were doing,” Brown said. “We didn't know what we were getting into but I just remember in the early days the pride that the staff took in putting this on the air. And it's not a stretch to say that Channel 7 changed the way high school football was covered. And it remains after 30 years, the benchmark on how you do one of these shows.
Shaver impressed upon both Mark and Mike that while FFE certainly centered on high school football, it was also about so much more.
“As Mike always said, this is a show about hometowns and not touchdowns,” Brown said. “I always said if you brought someone here from a foreign country and they said show me what America is about, the first thing you should do is bring them to a stadium like this to a high school football game, because it's got everything America about it. It's got kids out here playing for the love of the game. It's got gentlemen working with them for little or no pay and it's got parents in the stands that are proud of what their kids are doing. So it's everything America and I think that is what this show has been able to capture.”
Friday Football Extra has seen a little bit of everything over the years, including a meteorite that passed through the sky during a game at Tunstall. Not even Hurricane Hugo that rolled through the Commonwealth in 1989 could keep FFE off the air, even though Altavista and Brookville were the only two area teams to play that night. In fact, our photographers have seen all kinds of weather in nearly three decades of work, but the show has never been cancelled for any reason.
We've watched several players go on to play in college and others who made it all the way to the Super Bowl, not to mention a Heisman Trophy finalist from Martinsville in Shawn Moore from Martinsville. But the stars who really defined the show were the coaches, shaping a landscape that was beyond entertaining to watch.
“Back then, we had such unbelievable characters and rivalries,” Stevens said. “And I think the coaches were more willing to speak their minds back then and they were kind of fueling the comments. Kenny Higgins up at Alleghany would see Doug Ward say something down at Botetourt and man, it was on.”