Gong heister relents

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CHARLOTTESVILLE — Eastern Hancock, the bell tolls for thee. Again.

The Royal Pride Victory Bell, adopted by the football team this season as a source of pride and pre-game tradition, was returned to the EH field Monday after police threatened the thief with a trip to the slammer.

“The person that we suspected had stolen it, we found out they actually did steal it,” said EH coach Pat Echeverria, who purchased the 19th century church chime at an antiques store this summer and had it painted and installed near the Royals’ east endzone. “Basically, the police went to this person and said, ‘We know you have it. Return it by 3:30 (Monday) or we’ll be back to arrest you.’”

Eastern Hancock dedicated the bell during its home game against Milan Sept. 8. Echeverria first noticed that the new fixture was missing Sept. 28, the day of the Royals tilt at Wes-Del. Initially, the Royals believed a rival team might have been playing a good-natured prank. As the weeks passed and the season ended, it became apparent that more dastardly intentions were involved.

Scuttlebutt began to indicate that one particular individual was the thief, and Echeverria, school officials and the police eventually confirmed it, leading to the knock on the perpetrator's door and official warning.

Monday afternoon, the bell was returned to the high school. Since the bell was undamaged, charges won’t be field against the bandit.

“It’s in perfect shape, just how we left it,” said Echeverria, who declined to name the gong heister.

The bell, which probably weighs a couple hundred pounds, had been stationed at the top of a five-foot brick pedestal. The bell, which is rung before games and after EH touchdowns, wasn’t bolted down, however.

“We’ll take care of that,” Echeverria said. “It’s not moving this time.”

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