Bill Sytsma looked at the clip and paused for a moment. This was a pregame interview before a football game, not the hospital rooms to which the first-year Frankford coach had grown accustomed.

The clip was a battery for a microphone that could be fastened onto his belt. Sytsma, who has been hospitalized for blood poisoning four times since June, nearly did what had become natural.

"I was about to put that on my finger," he said with a chuckle. "I'm so used to nurses putting that thing on my finger."

A finger pulse oximeter might have been working overtime Friday afternoon, Sytsma's first game back since being hospitalized Aug. 25. The Pioneers were set to face Archbishop Ryan and sophomore Kevin Szychulski, whose heart rate was also aflutter a week after a neck injury on the field had left him unable to move.

"I'm excited to be back," Sytsma said. "At the beginning of the week, it was looking pretty negative, that I wouldn't be here."

"It's awesome just to be back talking to my teammates," Szychulski said. "It's helping me get better faster."

Decades apart, Sytsma, 40, and Szychulski, 15, share a love for the game that each couldn't wait to get back to.

Szychulski has been playing football since he was about four years old. His father, Kevin Sr., was a first-team all-Catholic league linebacker in 1995 and played with Sytsma at North Catholic.

Kevin Szychulski, Archbishop Ryan sophomore, returned to cheer for his teammates, a week after a neck injury on the field left him unable to move
Aaron Carter / Staff
Kevin Szychulski, Archbishop Ryan sophomore, returned to cheer for his teammates, a week after a neck injury on the field left him unable to move

Aug. 24 was Kevin Jr's. first game as a starting linebacker for Ryan (2-0), which led Bartram, 31-12, with seven seconds left in the third quarter. As an onside kick tumbled toward him, Szychulski dived for the ball and took a knee to the helmet, knocking him unconscious.

"I don't remember getting hit, but I remember laying on the field after for a little bit then waking up in the ambulance, like, 'where am I?' " he said.

Szychulski said he lost feeling in his legs and felt numbness in his upper body. An ambulance was called and took Szychulski to Jefferson Hospital. About 90 minutes later, feeling returned to his extremities and he was able to move on his own power.

He was diagnosed with a concussion and a neck injury, he said, commonly referred to as a "stinger," and is expected to make a full recovery.

Loud music in the locker room before the game made him long for action, but Szychulski is just happy to be back around his teammates.

"It means the world," he said.

Later, he added: "The game is just fun itself. You get to be with your best friends. They're basically your brothers; you're with them every single day for hours."

On Aug. 25, Sytsma might not have had hours left. A friend, he said, rushed him from Sytsma's home in Somerton to Frankford Hospital in seven minutes, a trip that could have been about 13 miles.

Fatigue and fever had set in, and then "things just went downhill from there," Sytsma said.

"My kidneys were failing, I was septic, so according to the doctor, it was pretty serious," he said.

He isn't positive of the causes, but Sytsma said he was first hospitalized for a blood infection in June. Three more times followed.

The last time — hopefully the last time — Sytsma caught a break when excessive heat forced movement of the Ryan game from Thursday to Friday.

"I told my doctors I had a game this week," he said. "When it got moved, my doctor said I had to stay an extra day. … Whatever it took to be out here, I was gonna be out here."