On the sidelines: High school football kicks off with help of many

Craig Woods may not be teaching at Warren High School next year, but that won’t keep him off the sidelines for Friday night football games.

“Doesn’t mean I’m going to retire from being a waterboy,” he said.

About six years ago, Woods was asked by the school’s head football coach to help out on the sidelines, mainly fixing equipment that broke during the game. It didn’t take long for the former coach to notice the youngsters delivering water bottles to the players could use some direction, especially when it came to keeping the bottles full.

“You watch one of these guys on a hot night, they’ll drink a fourth of it on the first (gulp), pour it over their heads,” Woods said.

So Woods took over supervision of the waterboys, while still fixing broken helmets or shoulder pads, intervening in the occasional sideline disagreement among players and doing other tasks so coaches can focus on the game itself.

“I’m doing them a service and getting myself a good seat,” he said.

Woods does this work on a volunteer basis, putting him among a dedicated group of area residents who, while they neither coach nor play, are integral in making high school football in the Mid-Ohio Valley happen week after week.

“It takes quite a few people to put on a really good, organized event,” said Jeff Givens, assistant principal and athletic director at Williamstown High School. “They’re just invaluable to us.”

Two volunteers – Jeff Cunningham and Moose Johnson – drive the equipment truck to Yellowjacket games and also serve as “get-back coaches” on the sidelines, making sure players and coaches don’t inadvertently step onto the field of play and draw a penalty.

Steve Hall, 59, has been a member of the “chain gang,” the group that marks the line of scrimmage and first down distance, for 35 years for his alma mater Williamstown High School. Aside from his love of football and the school’s tradition, Hall said it gives him the best seat in the house.

“It’s better than the stands. You’re on the line of scrimmage every play,” he said. “You can’t be any more into the game than by being in the game.”

And Hall isn’t even the longest-tenured member of the gang. He works the games along with George Wells, who was marking downs when Hall was a Yellowjacket player in the early ’70s.

Warren head Coach Andy Schob noted that a Little Hocking resident whose son used to play for the team cuts the grass on Warren’s football field and Karen Henthorn, mother of two players, coordinates meals for the team.

“It’s enough time as a coach, but if you had to do everything like that…,” he said.

On game nights, Frontier Middle School football Coach Adam Olson joins the varsity coaches on the sidelines and volunteers his services as both equipment repairman and athletic trainer.

“I’m taping ankles, checking on concussions, and if something breaks, I fix it,” he said.

Olson spent a year as a varsity assistant coach but has chosen to focus on middle school coaching instead. Still, he likes to help out the varsity coaches and watch the players he worked with when they were younger progress.

Olson honed his equipment repair skills while he was a graduate assistant on Muskingum University’s football staff.

“Being the young coach on the totem pole, all the GAs had to fix equipment and stuff like that,” he said.

A collision can cause a chin strap to break or laces and rivets on shoulder pads can come loose. It’s Olson’s job to remedy that situation as quickly and safely as possible.

“It can be done pretty quick,” he said. “We have a big chest we keep there on the sidelines with just about everything in it.”

Olson said he tries to make sure the player misses no more than one play.

“If someone breaks a chinstrap and it’s your star player, and it takes five minutes to get him ready, well, you’re in trouble,” said Frontier athletic director Roger Kirkpatrick.

Even before kickoff, a combination of school district employees and community volunteers get everything ready to go. Kirkpatrick paints the lines on Frontier’s field with the help of Pee Wee football coaches and others. Maintenance supervisor Rob McPeek makes sure the lights, public address system and scoreboard are in working order and stay that way during the game.

“When you’re a small community like Frontier is, people work together,” Kirkpatrick said.

The Fort Frye Local school district’s custodial staff paints the lines on the Cadet football field, and boosters paint the double-F logo at midfield, athletic director Beth Brown said.

The Belpre City school district relies on a number of volunteers at its football games, including the chain gang, public address announcer, ticket-takers and more. And Dr. John Piersol has given the Golden Eagle football team a physician’s presence on the sidelines for 36 years.

Belpre Superintendent Tony Dunn said there’s no way the district could afford to pay all the people who help out with football and other sports.

“Without volunteers in high school and junior high sports, they just couldn’t go on,” he said.

Schob said the motivation for many of the volunteers is simple.

“It’s for the kids and to make it (better) for them,” he said.