The 82-year-old has filmed every Squires football game since 1975
Jim Groft has had the same routine on Friday nights in the fall for a while now.
For the past 40 years, the now 82-year-old has filmed every single football game Delone Catholic High School has played. In addition to shooting the games, Groft also edits the film, cuts it into highlight packages and emails it to the coaching staff free of charge.
Video technology has obviously gone through plenty of changes in the past 40 years. So how hard has it been for someone in his 80s to keep up?
“There was something of a learning curve,” Groft said. “It was just a matter of keeping up with everything on the market, reading up on everything.”
That makes it sound pretty simple. But according to retired Squires coach Denny Frew, Groft is simply modest about the process.
“It always amazed me that he kept his interest up with the changing times,” Frew, who coached the team from 1979 to 2006, said. “I always pushed for video, but Jim was the mover. What you’d expect from an 18-, 19-year-old kid interested in video, that’s been Jim for us.”
After so many years of contributing to Delone Catholic athletics, Groft unofficially retired from filming at the end of this past season. While the Squires now need a new video guy, they’re also losing much more.
From cutting the football field grass to donating money and spending time with the student athletes, Groft has had what Frew calls an “an amazing influence on the athletic department.”
Groft never saw it that way exactly. A 1951 graduate of Delone Catholic, the McSherrystown native always enjoyed giving back to his alma mater.
“I was proud of my school,” Groft said. “I really enjoyed doing it. There was a lot of work, but a lot of happiness too.”
Stumbling into a hobby
Groft may have never gotten into filming if it wasn’t for a last-minute emergency.
It was 1975, and Groft had recently moved back to McSherrystown with his wife, Joyce, after living in Camp Hill for a few years. Looking to get involved with his old school, the 42-year-old joined the Delone Catholic Athletic Association.
The night before the Squires game against rival Hanover, athletic director J.T. Flaherty called Groft asked for a favor. The man who normally filmed games was out of town, and Flaherty wanted Groft to fill in.
“He asked me if I was interested in photography and I said, ‘No, I just have a camera,’” Groft said. “He said that was close enough, and I said I’d do what I could. I just thought I’d do it for that one night.”
But Groft found out that night he enjoyed filming the team. He also thought that filming the games would be easier if two people were always on the job. And so volunteering on Friday nights became a part of his routine.
Groft had help filming from numerous people over the years, including his first partner, Nick Smith, and his current one, Tom Staub. But it was always him at the head of the operation.
As the years went by, Groft continuously worked with the athletic association to upgrade its video equipment. It wasn’t too long before the quality of his game films were so high that other schools began calling Frew to ask how his team was doing it.
“People from other teams were coming up at halftime to see the equipment and ask him questions,” Frew said. “Chambersburg spent thousands on video after seeing what he was doing, and Carlisle too. Frankly, it was cheaper than what they were doing.”
All that new equipment meant more effort from Groft as he taught himself the newest technology time and time again. Eventually, he began filming boys’ and girls’ basketball games and taking care of the football field.
He did much of that while still working as a machine operator and later design engineer with AMP Incorporated in Harrisburg, where he worked until 1998. Groft knew the school needed as much help as it could get, and he was happy to provide some.
“People said I did so much work, but I don’t know if Delone Catholic would exists if not for the volunteers,” Groft said. “The athletic association financed the whole sports program, and I just tried to do my part.”
Interacting with the kids
One of five children, Groft was so busy working various jobs in high school that he never had time to play sports.
He and his wife also never had kids of their own. But during his 40 years volunteering at the school, interacting with student-athletes was what made everything worth it.
“Being around the kids, hearing the stories they tell and seeing their excitement was a great experience,” Groft said. “I’m going to miss being around them, being there for their happiness and their sorrow.”
Groft did plenty for the kids besides filming their games and cutting their grass. He also made highlight films for kids looking at colleges, watched tape with them and brought them doughnuts after games, according to Frew.
And the kids enjoyed his company as much as he enjoyed theirs. Frew can remember many instances when players asked Groft if he needed help setting up equipment or approached him on the bus after games to talk.
Current Squires coach Corey Zortman can attest to that, having played at Delone Catholic from 1991 to 1994. According to him, Groft was just as helpful to this season’s players as he was to him and his teammates 21 years ago.
“He’s been a mainstay, not just by filming but as a huge supporter of Delone,” Zortman said. “Just someone you can depend on. He’s a walking encyclopedia, and there isn’t a thing that happened in a Delone football game that he doesn’t remember. He’s been a foundation at this school.”
Left with the memories
Groft hasn’t completely ruled out filming again, but at 82, getting up and down the stands has become more exhausting than editing the tapes. He plans on still attending events, however, and hopes to interact with the players.
And he’s got plenty of memories to look back fondly on, including the girls’ basketball team’s three straight state titles from 2003 to 2005 and the football team’s victories against Hanover.
Groft said it feels poetic to have had his last game come against Hanover this season (the Squires lost 45-20), having filmed them in his first game 40 years ago. He also thanked Staub, without whom, he said, he “wouldn’t have been able to do everything.”
Many at Delone, from the coaches to the players, will miss him too. Not just because of his video expertise, but because of his personality.
“He’s been a pleasure to be around, and he’s very positive,” Frew said. “The field was never taken care of until he took it over, and now people appreciate it. He’s just been a very great asset to all the athletic programs.”