When I interview Northern Lehigh football players after games, the process is always the same.
The first thing they do is try to wipe their wet, dirty hands off on their muddy uniform. Then they give a firm hand shake and always address me as sir or Mr. Haines. Then I try to wipe off my now-muddy hand, but usually walk away with a dirty notebook and smears on my tape recorder.
Well, that's what it used to be like. This year, I'm sure the players will still call me sir or Mr. Haines. But the mud will be gone.
I'm going to miss that mud. Not the stuff that ended up on my hands and notebook, but the stuff that so many Bulldog players battled in over the years. I've seen clean Northern Lehigh football players before games. But watching them play a whole game without one splash, without players sliding around the field is going to take some getting used to.
I'm not saying the mud should have stayed. Putting in an artificial surface was certainly the right move for the school district and its sports teams.
It will be used not just by the football team, but also by the field hockey and soccer teams of all levels and the Northern Lehigh Youth Football players. Every one of the districts teams will get to play on the new surface this fall.
Financially, putting in the new turf was a no-brainer. It will save the school district a lot of money, around $50,000 per year in operational costs.
In addition to the monetary savings, it will also save Northern Lehigh athletic director Bryan Geist.
That old mud won't get dragged into the locker room like it has for years. The mud won't ruin uniforms as quickly.
On those rainy fall days he won't spend half his day examining the field conditions and trying to get it game-ready.
He also looks forward to the ball taking true bounces on the much more consistent surface and to players showing off their speed on a field that gives them better footing than grass and mud.
Geist would love to see a state football playoff game come to Slatington. It would "increase traffic in local business," he said in an email this week. The field could also be a candidate to host field hockey, soccer or even lacrosse playoffs at the district level.
That is all true. The list of reasons for putting in turf is surely much longer than the reasons not to.
But some of us will still miss the mud. I've seen a lot of great teams play in that mud, I've brought a lot of dirty notebook pages and smudged up tape recorders back to the office on Friday nights.
Geist won't miss the mud nearly as much. It's not that he doesn't love a muddy football game once in a while, he just doesn't want to host them.
"I will look forward to our sloppy trips to Northwestern Lehigh and Palmerton," he said.
Next Friday the new field will be dedicated at a ceremony a couple hours before the Bulldogs 2012 opener.
Some time in the next few weeks I'll see my first game on that shiny new field. I'm sure I'll see a hard-working football team that gives everything it has for 48 minutes. I'll see a well-coached team that conducts itself with class on and off the field.
Those things may never change at Northern Lehigh.
But when the game ends and there are no muddy Bulldogs, it's going to feel like I'm in a whole new place.