Each year, before the leaves turn or the first frost arrives, before the first football game is played on a field that galvanized a community, Maranacook football coach Joe Emery gathers his team and talks to them about No. 34.

He shares the story of an unselfish boy whose dying wish was to bring lights to a football field for others to cherish. He shares the story of a boy whose sacrifices should be championed by past, present and future Black Bears.

He shares the story of Ricky Gibson III.

“They need to know,” Emery said. “I tell all the younger kids why we have lights here. I tell them why they wear the No. 34 decals on their helmets. I tell them why Ricky did what he did. Everyone coming in needs to know why we have the Ricky Gibson Field of Dreams.”

Jake Gibson, a sophomore tailback/defensive end for the Black Bears, knows the story very well. He was 11 years old when his older brother died April 10, 2009 of an inoperable brain tumor. Ricky’s No. 34 is retired.

“I think about him all the time,” said the soft-spoken Jake Gibson, 15, of Wayne. “I let him know that I am working hard for him. I feel him out there. I know he’d tell me to keep working hard for it.”

Ricky Gibson made it his wish to bring lights to school’s football field. With the help of a supportive community and the Make-A-Wish Foundation, which combined to raise more than $100,000, the dream became a reality. At a Dec. 20, 2008 ceremony, Ricky Gibson forever changed football in this town when he turned the lights on the field for the first time.

Moments after the brief ceremony concluded, an informal football pickup game broke out near midfield.

Rick Morand, who coached the Gibsons in youth football and helped spearhead the fundraising effort, remembers watching Ricky that day.

“He was in a wheelchair at the time,” said Morand, a surgeon at Maine General Medical Center, “and he was watching Jake and his buddies play a game. It was very informal. That was all he wanted to see. It was his vision for the field. I knew he just wanted to see the kids play under those lights. It was his dream, and it came to life that day.”

Added Jake Gibson: “I remember that day. I remember playing some pickup. I know it made Ricky happy, too.”

Jake Gibson says he’s also making his brother proud by the way he plays now. The younger Gibson says working hard is part of his makeup — and he doesn’t need to look far for motivation.

“Every time I walk on the field, it definitely gives me a lot of motivation during the games,” he said. “It makes me want to work harder during every practice to be best player I can be. I don’t know, I’ve always worked as hard as I could on the field but I play with everything I got.”

Jake’s father, Rick Gibson, says he thinks of Ricky often, particularly when watching the Black Bears play. However, he’s quick to add that his sons were different football players.

“I’m proud every time I come out here,” he said. “The flashbacks come just from the uniforms and seeing the kids out there playing. It’s not so much with just watching Jake play. Their style of play is just totally different. Lisa (the boys’ mother) couldn’t stand watching Ricky playing because she hates full contact. I like it. I don’t necessarily think of Ricky when I see Jake, but I think of Ricky every time I’m down here. It’s still surreal.

“It still seems fresh, and it probably will be until Jake is done. But what Ricky did, it’s changed the atmosphere down here for the better.”

Jake and his dad acknowledge that time is a good healer.

More than four years have passed since Ricky died, and he’ll forever be fresh on his family’s minds. There are good days, bad days and plenty of in-between days.

“It’s tough,” Rick Gibson said. “We have our ups and downs, but it’s good for the most part. This helps.”

“This,” of course, is football.

Jake Gibson first started playing when he was in third grade. He was five years behind Ricky, so the brothers never experienced being teammates.

Jake Gibson earned a spot on the varsity team as a freshman — a big goals of his — and now he’s making an impact on both sides of the ball. He helps lead a defense that’s held opponents scoreless for consecutive weeks.

On offense, he subs in for starting fullback Simon Davis, as well. Maranacook (3-2) plays at Lisbon (4-1) at 1:30 p.m. Saturday.

Gibson is hoping for the breakout season next fall.

“I’ve wanted this for awhile,” he said. “I wanted to play varsity ball all four years here. I love playing. I love playing on Friday nights here. I don’t really remember what the field was like before, but it’s nice now. I think it gives everybody more motivation during the games to know what Ricky did to make this field what it is today. If the younger people can actually understand that, they can have the same motivation. This is what Ricky wanted.

“I miss him a lot. It’s getting easier but I still think about him every day.”

Bill Stewart — 621-5640

[email protected]