WHEELING - Using words like honored, thrilled, excited, and ''a big deal,'' coaches participating in the third annual McDonalds OVAC Kickoff Weekend showed their appreciation to organizers Friday afternoon for bringing along a must-see event on the OVAC high school football schedule.
Five games featuring big schools and small schools taking place at Wheeling Island Stadium and Harding Stadium in Steubenville will be held Aug. 23 and 25 between the two sites as the event has expanded from a one-day event to two.
Four games will be held Thursday night - two at each venue - and a fifth will be held Saturday night on the island.
PHOTO BY JIM ELLIOTT
Wheeling Park's Chris Daugherty, left, and St. Clairsville's Brett McLean are on a collision course.
That game, Linsly vs. Magnolia, figures to draw plenty of eyes, as the Blue Eagles won a W.Va. Class AA state title two seasons ago, and the Cadets are coming off an unbeaten season in which they won nearly every game handily.
''(Organizers) put a great deal of faith in Linsly and Magnolia expanding the event'', Linsly coach B.J. Depew said. ''Any time we get a chance to be involved in an OVAC event, it's a big deal for our school.''
Magnolia coach Mark Batton, who has his softball team in the W.Va. Class AA Region One Finals, used a term from that sport to thank those in charge for doing what they do for the kids.
''What a tremendous job,'' he said. ''These guys always step up to the plate. It's a great honor to be a part of this.''
Thursday's games at Harding Stadium feature Steubenvilles vs. (D.C). Woodrow Wilson at 6 p.m., and Edison vs. Oak Glen at 8:30 p.m.
''We're very happy to be part of this, '' Steubenville coach Reno Saccoccia said, before reminding those in attendance Woodrow Wilson is a team that beat Big Red 33-13 in their last meeting (1998). Woodrow has an enrollment of 1,483; Big Red's is 518. It is D.C.'s largest public school.
The Edison-Oak Glen game, which has become an instant classic the last few seasons, will mark the debut of rookie Golden Bears coach Ian Whittington, a young man who has Columbia Gold and Blue running through his veins. He played football and wrestled at the school prior to his graduation in 2003.
''This is an amazing opportunity for us,'' Whittington said. ''For me as a head coach, and the exposure for our kids and our school.''
The Thursday games at Wheeling Island Stadium feature a pair of small schools in Bridgeport vs. St. John Central at 5 p.m. ahead of a big-school matchup featuring St. Clairsville and Wheeling Park at 7:30 p.m.
''It's a great honor,'' said Bridgeport coach Rudy Vavrock, who has overseen playoff teams in three of the last four seasons in charge of the Bulldogs. ''We get to play our rival. For us to renew that rivalry is big.''
St. John, too, will showcase a first-year head coach in Jason Merryman.
Merryman, like Whittington, a West Liberty University graduate, knows what he's up against, having ''butted heads'' against Bridgeport as an assistant with Shadyside.
''We've kinda modeled our program after Bridgeport,'' Merryman said. ''He started out with little numbers and eventually he built himself a program and that's what we're trying to do as well. We're starting out small and trying to get our players to believe in what we're doing like he has.''
The marquee game follows with St. Clairsville bringing back the store against a Wheeling Park team that is always loaded with athletes.
''We're really excited about the opportunity to play at the island, it's a great venue,'' St. Clairsville coach Brett McLean said. ''And we know we're in for a great challenge.''
So does Wheeling Park coach Chris Daugherty, who noticed the Red Devils return nearly everyone from a team that lost only one regular-season game a year ago and advanced to the Ohio Division IV, Region 15 Championship Game.
''When you look at St. Clairsville, ton of speed, great football team, returning a lot of guys so they're going to be a mature football team,'' Daughterty said. ''It might turn into a track meet. We both have fast kids. It should be a fun night for football.''
Tickets for Thursday's doubleheaders are $10 and tickets for Saturday's game in Wheeling are $6. The fan enhancement plans will be released in the coming weeks.
"What a better way to celebrate the start of the football season,'' said James Companion of Scholastic Sports Marketing. ''The crowds and fan enthusiasm have exceeded our expectations these first two years. It will be exciting to see how things go with the Saturday addition. Expanding and playing even more games on Saturday may be the way to go in future years. Our primary objectives remain the same, and that's to raise money for the OVAC and member schools, the Ronald McDonald House and provide a positive experience for the youth of our community,"
Besides McDonald's as the title sponsor, WTOV9 as the presenting sponsor, Wheeling Hospital, the United States Marines, Shirts N' More, Paree Insurance Centers, West Liberty University, NAPA Auto Parts, Belmont College and the US Army are also on board as official sponsors. Lamar Outdoor Advertising, The Intelligencer/Wheeling News-Register and The Times Leader and WKKX 1600 AM are media partners.