For former Annandale High School football player Reuben Weaver, a project to convert the team’s old films to DVDs started as a personal stroll down memory lane.
Three years later and still working through old film reels, Weaver has become the unofficial tour guide to Atoms football history.
“I really didn’t know how far I was going to go with this when I started,” Weaver said. “I just wanted to share my time on the Atoms with my son.”
In the fall of 2011, Weaver’s son Austin played football as a freshman for his high school in Strasburg, Va., where Weaver now lives and owns a landscaping company. Watching his son play, Weaver decided he wanted to share his own football career with his son. He pulled out yearbooks and scrapbooks from his time at Annandale, but he wanted more.
Recalling the old cameras that would whir as they recorded games, Weaver contacted Annandale head football coach Mike Scott to see if any films were available. Scott let Weaver come in and crack open two large footlockers in a back room at the high school, unlocking a treasure trove of Annandale history
“We’ve had ’em forever,” Scott said. “Hundreds of reels. Ed Henry, the coach of the ’65 championship team, Bob Hardage, the coach of the ’72 and ’78 teams — they always had film going. We have a ton of VHS tapes, too, from the ’80s and ’90s.”
Annandale holds a rich football history. The Atoms have won six state championships in 61 years and for decades were counted among the area’s perennial powers.
Weaver played on the Atoms’ varsity squad from 1977-79. In his junior year, he served as starting center for the undefeated 1978 state championship team.
At first, Weaver just planned to convert select games from his final two seasons to DVD so he could share them with his family. But first he would have to find them.
Weaver and his son spent a whole day organizing the jumbled piles of 16mm film canisters only to find that most films from those two seasons were not there, having been borrowed over time by different team members.
So Weaver then spent months tracking down those reels from various alumni, as it dawned on him that his small project had become a much larger undertaking. In six months, he had a nearly complete set of film for the 1978 and 1979 seasons, missing just half of one game out of 14 from 1978 and one game out of 11 from 1979.
Films now in hand, Weaver found himself presented with another problem. Years of humidity and rust left the films decaying, brittle and warped. As a result, Weaver must carefully work his way through the reels with a small hand-crank film viewer and perform all needed splicing himself.
“I didn’t want to put these through a film projector even if I could find one because the film is so fragile it would do more damage than good,” Weaver said.
Another issue came in the cost of transferring the reels to DVD. One game typically takes up two reels of film. Having two reels transferred cost about $75.
Before going forward with his original plan to transfer his few favorite games from the two seasons, Weaver started reaching out to former teammates to see if they would be interested in getting DVDs themselves, to help him offset the cost.
The enthusiastic responses overwhelmed him. Weaver ended up selling DVD sets of each season for $100 as a fundraiser for his alma mater. The end result: $1,500 went to the Atoms athletic booster club.
Plus, Weaver finally got the chance to watch his old teams.
“That was an incredible experience to actually get to see them,” Weaver said. “Going in, I didn’t think they existed, and then one weekend I sat down and watched the whole state championship season. I’m sure Austin’s seen more than he ever wanted.”
With his initial mission complete, Weaver decided to continue in his role as unofficial Atoms football historian, working his way through the early years of the program.
Weaver grew up on tales of Annandale football like that of the 38-game unbeaten streak that ran from 1965 to 1968 and the 1965 and 1967 state championships.
“As a little kid playing pickup football, you always wanted to be an Annandale Atom,” Weaver said.
Last year, Weaver unearthed a special find in the film footlockers: a home movie of the week leading up to Annandale’s 1972 state championship victory. The 23-minute film shows students decorating school hallways and holding a pep rally and cheerleaders practicing for the game.
He had the film transferred to DVD and sold copies for $20 through the booster club, this time raising $1,200 for the Atoms.
Coach Scott, himself a 1988 graduate, is looking forward to showing this film to his team this fall.
“Our red-and-white uniforms, they don’t look much different in those old black-and-white films,” Scott said. “That reinforces our tradition. The great teams we’ve had here come back to life.”
This year, Weaver plans to continue trawling through reels from the ’60s and ’70s, looking for momentous games and performances.
He also has another fundraiser planned, with his two latest DVDs: one of the first-ever home game played at Annandale in 1955; one of the first game under lights in 1960.
“Even the 1955 game, for as long as it’s sat in the can, it’s very viewable,” Weaver said. “It’s not Hollywood, it’s game film. But it’s just a great piece of history.”