HANOVER TWP. – Mike Lewis welcomed the Hanover Area football team on the field like he had for each of the past 35 seasons.
Armed in a blue Hawkeyes hooded sweatshirt, he paraded around the team's pre-game huddle, high-fiving each member of the team before Friday's game against Holy Redeemer.
Despite never playing a down at Memorial Stadium, Lewis remains as much of a part of the Hanover Area football program as any coach or player.
Hanover Area honored Lewis' contributions to the program as a long-time team manager by naming the road leading down to the stadium Mike Lewis Drive. School administrators and the six coaches he managed with unveiled the street sign prior to Friday's game.
Even though he never played, he was always with us, through the grind, through the rainstorms, everything, current football coach Ron Hummer said. To have him is a blessing. We call him our manager but really he is an honorary coach.
Lewis, who is mentally challenged, joined the Hanover Area staff in 1977 at the age of 12. He would often walk from his Lee Park home to watch his older brother, Walter, practice on the freshmen team. The trainer saw Mike along the sidelines and told him to get busy.
Thirty-five years and two state championships later, Lewis hasn't stopped filling up Gatorade and water bottles. Well into his mid-40s, he remains the most active – if not, most vocal – Hawkeye on the field.
Not even Friday's menacing rain and mud-bogged conditions, which drove most of the Hawkeye faithful to the parking lot, kept Lewis from his job duties. After the game, he could be seen carting team supplies under the home-side bleachers – on a hop.
He is like a brother to us, Hummer said. He has been with us 35 years. Having Mike as part of this program, we look to him as a brother. Legitimately, he is. He was with us every single day through doubles. He was always here.'
Lewis said that his most memorable experience was being able to be on the sidelines when his brothers Walter and Edward played.
During his 35 years, Lewis missed only 11 games – three games during the 1987 season due to ear surgery and eight games during the 2006 season while he recovered from major surgery to remove two tumors pushing against a cervical herniated disk in his neck.
Lewis' absence was nothing but noticeable.
Back in the day, when he wasn't here, there was something missing, Hummer said. Not to have Mike around would be a big loss to our program.
His stature with the football program elevated Lewis' presence in the community. Hummer suggested that if Lewis ran for mayor of Hanover Township, he would win in a landslide.
Everyone in Hanover Township, everyone in Lee Park knows Mike, he said. He's a part of his town.
Lewis doesn't plan on stopping any time soon. As long as fans make their way down Mike Lewis Drive to watch the Hawkeyes play, he said he will continue to hydrate players, set up practices, and chirp at players during games.
Why do I come back? Lewis said. I love it.