By Ragan Robinson | Hickory Daily Record
Published: February 8, 2010
HUDSON – When the roar of football fans stops echoing through his school’s stadium, Coach Butch Carter makes do with the shrill shake of a tabletop gridiron.
South Caldwell High School’s head football coach is the 2010 National Electric Football Champion. The 39-year-old Granite Falls man won the title last month in a Columbus, Ohio, tournament sponsored by Miggle Toys.
He paid for the trip with his earnings from painting, tweaking and selling the miniature players that star in the games. That income pays for the hobby, which also included a Chicago tournament in recent years.
Fine-tuning makes electric football go faster and renders steadier players. Some of it is cosmetic, too.
Carter uses a Dremel tool to carve muscles into some of his favorite Virginia Tech Hokies miniatures.
The game even has its own banned substances. Boiling the figures with baby oil does something to make them stronger and faster, so pro organizations banned the method.
Carter gets serious about electric football in November or December when the high school season is over. As part of the training schedule, he comes up with plays and tries to figure out what will work best against his tabletop competitors.
In his January championship game, his opponent scored only once, on a kick-off return.
But while he might have gotten a flashy silver championship ring for January’s efforts, the ring he’s shooting for is the one coaches get for a high school state championship. Electric football helps with that, too, he thinks.
“It really keeps my mind sharp for football,” he said. “It’s like moving chess.”
Electric football dates back to the 1940s, when the first model football fields appeared on the toy market. The technology behind the game has stayed virtually the same. A vibrating board moves miniature players from mid-field to end zones. Real-life players set up formations, start the action and stop the game when a miniature team member comes open for a pass, a ball carrier goes out of bounds or someone scores a touchdown.
So what if it’s nothing like the flashy football video games of today? Never mind the old-school electric football isn’t a game that lets fans become digital versions of the sport’s stars, hurling game-winning passes and sailing into end zones with a little strategic pressure across half a dozen buttons.
For players like Carter, electric football makes up for its high-tech shortcomings with a nostalgia that recreates a childhood before video games. The screech of the trembling board recalls a time when calling plays for the Dallas Cowboys or the Denver Broncos was magical enough to unseat frustration over wobbly miniatures or painfully small felt footballs.
Carter can’t remember anything that captured his 7-year-old imagination more firmly than the first game he got, the 1977 Super Bowl edition with the Cowboys and Broncos. In the years that followed, he amassed the players from every team in the NFL.
Eventually, though, the thrill of electric football gave way to the real thing. Carter’s mini-football hobby gave way to the real thing in middle and high school at South Caldwell, and then at Lees McCrae, where the running back and outside linebacker played college ball.
Then, around 2004, at the end of a snow day with his family, it occurred to Carter how much he missed the miniature version of his sport. A friend got online and searched the subject, coming up with information about the Dixie League. Now, Carter meets with his fellow e-football aficionados twice a year.
He also is working on starting a new Carolina League to meet four or five times a year.
The coach is open to adding new members. He’s also willing to give a good home to old electric football equipment sitting unplayed in attics and basements.
People can contact him at 308-9927 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
But be warned. Carter takes his sport seriously, no matter what it is.
“I don’t care if it’s checkers, I’m going to give you all I’ve got,” he said. “Anything I want to do, I’m going to try to be a champion.”