Two years ago on Aug. 24, 2018, the last time Buckeye Valley hosted Delaware Hayes in the kickoff of the varsity football season, 7,000-plus fans packed Ohio Wesleyan University’s Selby Stadium to watch the Brown and Gold take on the Orange and Black in the game that has traditionally marked the start of football season for both teams.
Friday, a small percentage of those 7,000 fans will be in attendance at Buckeye Valley High School as the Barons host the Pacers in the final game of the 2020 season, capping off what was, for all, a season of uncertainty and challenges as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Buckeye Valley, led by head coach Matt Stephens, will look to improve on its 3-6 record with a win against the visiting Pacers. But for Stephens, this game represents more than a win or loss — this game is an affirmation that the protocols that have been put in place all season were successful and all of the hard work to get to Week 10 has paid off.
“If we can get this game in this week with our players and Delaware’s players healthy that is a big accomplishment,” he said. “It is the protocols and the diligence of our student athletes and members of the community that have given us the opportunity to play week after week.”
COVID protocols announced in May include adjusted practice schedules to coincide with the Buckeye Valley School District’s cohort learning schedule as well as adherence to rigorous health and safety guidelines including a reduction in stadium capacity and social distancing by fans; restrictions on travel to away games as well as daily temperature checks for coaches and athletes, implementation of social distancing procedures for practices and games and of course mask wearing policies for fans, coaches and athletes.
“It’s been exhausting. We have had to deal with different things this season and have had many conversations with medical professionals and other coaches all in an effort to meet the guidelines and follow the protocols established by the OHSAA and keep our athletes healthy,” reflected Stephens.
As teams adjusted to the OHSAA guidelines that were made public in May, and as they received final approval to play and the announcement of a shortened regular season in late summer, it left coaches and athletic directors adjusting schedules to meet the shortened regular season. The new six game regular season provided all schools the ability to compete in a modified post-season playoff. When the Barons lost their playoff game in Week 7, it provided an opportunity to pick up additional non-conference games, typically played at the beginning of the regular 10-game season.
“We have played nine weeks and with one week and one game left — and that game being Hayes — our players are motivated, focused and ready,” explained Stephens, who pointed to his 17 seniors who will be taking the field for the last time on Friday. “Most of these players have been with the program for years so it is great to see them play Delaware whether in Week 1 or Week 10.”
Delaware Hayes Coach, Scott Wetzel, who brings his 1-8 Pacers to BV to compete in their last game of the season expressed a similar sentiment about Friday’s game.
“Our players are excited to play and honestly there was a lot of uncertainty as to whether this game would be able to be played.”
Admittedly, there will be differences in the physical atmosphere of the long-standing rivalry game “but, a rival game is a rival game and we are excited to be able to play it, even if it is with fewer fans in the stands and not in Week 1,” stated Wetzel.
Buckeye Valley Athletic Director Mike Yinger explained that the same safety measures will be followed on Friday as have been all season.
“We have a limited capacity in the stadium and those tickets have been allotted to families from both teams with a few available to members of the student body,” he said. “All of the seats will be marked for social distancing and signage will be around the stadium with reminders about hygiene, social distancing and one way traffic flow.”
Yinger encouraged those attending the game to follow the guidelines established by the OHSAA, including asking fans to wear a mask and perform their own temperature checks before arriving at the stadium. Because of the stadium capacity limit there are no game tickets available to the public.
The game between Buckeye Valley and Delaware Hayes is scheduled for kickoff at 7 p.m.