WHEELING - The Ohio Valley Athletic Conference prides itself on being about children, and that's a big part of why Harrison Central football coach Justin Kropka enjoys raising his family here at home.
"It never ceases to amaze me how much the valley does for our children,'' Kropka said Wednesday during the unveiling of the matchups for the 4th Annual McDonald's OVAC Kickoff Weekend, at the Elm Grove Restaurant. "And when children are being helped I always see the same people that are here.
"Most of us grew up playing football right here in the Ohio Valley and now with a son coming up who will also get to do that, maybe it means just a little bit more to me.''
Wheeling Park football coach Chris Daugherty
Kropka's Huskies, coming off the second postseason berth in the school's history, will play Wheeling Central, a perennial West Virginia Class A title contender, in the nightcap of the opener at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 29, at Wheeling Island Stadium.
"There's a great mutual respect, not only for Harrison Central and Justin, but for everyone in this room,'' Maroon Knights coach Mike Young said. "This is an incredible event and we're thrilled to be involved.''
The opener that night in Wheeling will pit long-time Marshall County rivals Bishop Donahue and Cameron against one another.
Thursday, Aug. 29
(at Wheeling Island Stadium)
Cameron vs. Bishop Donahue, 5 p.m.
Harrison Central vs. Wheeling Central, 7:30 p.m.
(at Kettlewell Memorial Stadium)
Weir vs. Indian Creek, 5:30 p.m.
Madonna vs. Beallsville, 7:50 p.m.
Friday, Aug. 30
(at Wheeling Island Stadium)
Keyser vs. Wheeling Park, 7 p.m.
"This is a heated rivalry, but I have a lot of respect for Cameron,'' said Bishops coach John Durdines, who once again guided his club to the playoffs last season.
For Dragons coach Jim Rogers, there couldn't be a better way to start the season.
"There's going to be a crowd. There's a lot of people that want to come and watch Cameron and Bishop Donahue play football,'' he said. "We've been playing for something like 60 years, and some people think I have been the coach that whole time.
"And what better venue than Wheeling Island Stadium?"
Meanwhile at Kettlewell Memorial Stadium in Wintersville, Indian Creek is set to play host to half of the event for the first time. The Redskins will meet Weir at 5:30 on Aug. 29.
"I can tell you that our players and our school are very excited to be a part of this,'' Indian Creek assistant athletics director David Kell said.
Back on the Weir sidelines, Tony Filberto is also happy to take part, particularly when the opponent is the Redskins.
"This has always been a great rivalry,'' he said.
The nightcap at Kettlewell will feature defending W.Va. Class A runner-up Weirton Madonna against perennial Ohio playoff entrant Beallsville.
"These are typically two of the better Class A teams in the OVAC,'' Madonna coach Doug Taylor said.
Beallsville coach Paul Kanzigg lost several key performers from last season's squad, but said his Blue Devils will be ready to button up the chinstraps.
"The first question I got from people, is where is Indian Creek?'' Kanzigg joked. "Our backs are kind of against the wall a little bit, but this is a great opportunity.''
The final of the five games is slated for Friday, Aug. 30 at Wheeling Island Stadium when host Wheeling Park, coming off another playoff entry, tangle with Keyser at 7:30. Both teams have loads of talent coming back and expectations are high.
"Keyser is a team that played for a state championship in West Virginia last year and brings just about everyone back, so it's not a typical matchup for this event,'' Park coach Chris Daugherty said. "Hopefully we can live up to the lofty expectations, but that's all they are right now.
"It's just on pen and paper."
James Companion of Scholastic Sports Marketing, which serves as the marketing branch of the OVAC, says the mission has not changed and it never will.
"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,'' he said. "What a better way to celebrate the official start of football season."
In addition to McDonald's as the title sponsor and WTOV-TV as the presenting sponsor, assistance is provided by Wheeling Hospital, Shirts 'N More, Premier Bank & Trust, Paree Insurance Centers, West Liberty University, Belmont College and the U.S. Army. Official media sponsors are The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register, The Times Leader, WKKX 1600 AM, which will broadcast all the games and stream them online, and Lamar Outdoor Advertising.