The Virginian-Pilot
                             THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT 
              Copyright (c) 1996, Landmark Communications, Inc.

DATE: Saturday, September 7, 1996           TAG: 9609070445
TYPE: Column 
SOURCE: Tom Robinson 
DATELINE: CHESAPEAKE                        LENGTH:   69 lines


The school hasn't been on Rogers Street in South Norfolk for three years now. The new Oscar Smith High School sits on a wide expanse in Great Bridge, a huge, sparkling building equipped with everything a modern high school should have.

It's so impressive that you could see how its present and future students, particularly those from the outer reaches of the new school zone, might believe that the life of Oscar Smith High begins with them. That the cozy neighborhood school that used to be and served so well has no claim on a 1990s world.

No longer. Not after the living history lesson that took place at Oscar Smith on Friday night before the Tigers' opened their football season against Churchland.

The kids were the first to do battle on what is now Beard-DeLong-Easley Field, so christened Friday by stalwarts of the old guard who hope to keep Oscar Smith's past vital even as its age of possibilities unfolds.

So Ed Beard (Class of '59), Steve DeLong ('61) and Kenny Easley ('77) were brought back to Chesapeake to accept the rare honor of having a field named for them while actually being around to enjoy it.

Now, if you have just asked yourself two questions - ``Who?'' and ``Why?'' - well, please, allow me.

Beard, DeLong and Easley were all high school and college football stars who played and, in Beard's case, also coached in the NFL. That the formerly tiny Oscar Smith, which experienced lean football times the last decade or more, once produced talent of such magnitude is one thing.

That the South Norfolk section of Portlock, a rough-and-tumble place in the '50s, could launch Beard and DeLong to football's heights from homes two streets apart, is yet more remarkable.

``If most people like me were growing up today, we wouldn't last 10 seconds,'' said Beard, 56. ``I was a street fighter. Hey, I was a good guy if you talked to me. Just loved to fight.''

Beard milled that grit into an eight-year career as a linebacker for the San Francisco 49ers, then coached for the 49ers, Saints and Lions before retiring to Sandbridge after the '84 season.

DeLong, 53, who followed Beard to the University of Tennessee, was an All-American defensive end who played his way into the College Football Hall of Fame. He spent seven years with the San Diego Chargers and one with the Chicago Bears and now runs a painting business in Knoxville.

``Of all the things I did in football, I think this ranks right at the top,'' DeLong said. ``This is the people I grew up with, the neighborhood.''

And then came Easley, 37, a brilliant multi-sport athlete who went to UCLA and also had an All-Pro career with the Seattle Seahawks as a defensive back. A kidney ailment cut Easley's tenure short, however. Today, he lives in Seattle and runs a sports management firm.

``Never did I ever imagine that what I did (in high school) would be accounted for today,'' Easley said. ``This small slice of immortality sort of does something unique to you. It's really incomprehensible.''

What's most understandable, though, is the tale of virtues the lives of these three men weave, the stand-bys you can never have enough of - work and dedication and pride in yourself and your task.

Friday at Oscar Smith, though, was at least as much about community, of roots that mean something in a time of transience.

Every home Friday night from here, three names stretched across the scoreboard will be that reminder, and inspiration. ILLUSTRATION: Color photo by HUY NGUYEN\The Virginian-Pilot

Former Oscar Smith players, from left, Kenny Easley (Class of '77),

Steve DeLong ('61) and Ed Beard ('59) acknowledge the crowd's

applause during the dedication ceremonies of Beard-DeLong-Easley

field. by CNB