When you think about high school football in our region, the word tradition almost always comes to mind.
Whether it’s a game against an old rival, gathering with friends and family each week at a familiar stadium that generations have played in or grabbing that favorite shirt or hat that shows off your school’s colors, the rituals of late summer and fall can be comforting. They allow us to connect with the past while enjoying the present and looking to the future.
All of those traditions will come back to life this week, on Thursday to be exact, when Steubenville Big Red meets Taylor Alldedrice at 7 p.m. in Harding Stadium to open our area’s season. That game, which will be the 1,171st contest played in the school’s history, will be the prelude to a full weekend of action with games on Friday and Saturday nights.
Among the many traditions area fans look forward to renewing each year is grabbing a copy our annual high school football preview, The Gridiron. It remains one of the most highly anticipated publications of the year, offering in-depth coverage of each of the teams in our coverage area.
But we don’t stop with preview stories. You’ll find several articles that go beyond the standard team previews, writing that reaches past the statistics and stories that offer a deeper perspective into football and what it means to our area. It’s a formula that works well — the publication has received numerous awards in the yearly contests presented by the Ohio Associated Press Media Editors and the West Virginia Press Association.
Among the stories that are included in this year’s football edition are several that offer differing perspectives on rivalries, what they mean for the teams involved, how they are an important component of tradition and what it can mean when some go away, whether through consolidation, changes in the philosophy of scheduling or a growing difference in the size of enrollments between schools.
Members of our sports staff also share their thoughts on rivalries, and offer several different viewpoints about what they mean. Whether they involve today’s battles that remain staples of the fall — think Brooke-Weir High and Indian Creek-Edison, for instance — or games that are no longer played but still have special meaning to many area residents — a list that includes Catholic Central and Big Red — the games always stir emotion and always have something on the line — if not a perfect season or a playoff spot, for instance, there’s always bragging rights that will last for at least another 12 months.
“You didn’t have to go far to hear a spirited argument regarding who was going to win,” writes sports correspondent Ed Looman while remembering Big Red-Central week. “Both schools had and still have loyal fans and, during the week, there was little love lost among those fans.”
That’s the essence of a rivalry and the reason fans still talk about an annual meeting that has not happened since 2000.
New to the world of local rivalries and all of the traditions that are a part of Ohio Valley football is Anthony Agresta, who takes over the Crusader football program. Looman offers an in-depth look at how Agresta has made the transition from Covington, La., to Steubenville.
Correspondent Ralph Cox, meanwhile, had the chance to sit down with Weir High’s Tony Filberto and gather some insight into what skills and traits Division I coaches are looking for when they evaluate high school football players.
Looman also had the chance to talk with Big Red coach Reno Saccoccia, who offers an interesting perspective on the 1984 team which defeated Columbus Whitehall-Yearling 12-9 in overtime to win Ohio’s Division II state title. It marked the first time one of our area Ohio teams won a championship that was decided on a field and set the stage for the future.
“For me, the 1984 team not only raised the bar, it became the bar for measuring success,” Saccoccia said while remembering that playoff run.
You’ll also find stories about facility upgrades at Edison — big changes to its locker room — and at Indian Creek — where artificial turf is replacing the natural grass that generations of Wintersville Golden Warriors and Indian Creek Redskins have played on.
The Gridiron will be included in Wednesday’s edition. Extra copies will be available for purchase at the newspaper offices and at area newsstands and convenience stores.
It’s a must-read for fans looking to get ready for the football season.
(Gallabrese, a resident of Steubenville, is executive editor of the Herald-Star and The Weirton Daily Times.)