HAMLER, Ohio - Patrick Henry High School's football team departed yesterday to play in today's state championship game - its first in school history - with flashing lights and sirens from Deshler fire trucks escorting the team a after 700-student send-off.
"Goin' on a business trip" is the team's mantra as it heads to Canton to play Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy for the Ohio High School Athletic Association's Division V championship.
The Toledo Central Catholic High School football team also is headed to a state championship football game today - the Division II state championship - with plans for a grand send-off this morning.
The school is hosting a pep rally for the team just before the players board a bus for Massillon, Ohio. There, Central Catholic will battle unbeaten and fourth-ranked Canfield at its historic Paul Brown Tiger Stadium at 7 p.m.
Patrick Henry's "business trip" theme was employed throughout the send-off and in signs across the district in southeastern Henry County that stretches from rural McClure down to Deshler and over to Hamler.
A video segment of the football team set to the rock song "Takin' Care of Business" by Bachman-Turner Overdrive held the crowd at the send-off spellbound and drew wild applause when it showed Drew Kuesel plowing past three opponents as he ran with the ball.
Plowing was another theme of the rally. Outside the high school on State Rt. 18 was a "Plow 'Em Over" sign in front of a sport utility vehicle, painted in the school's red, white, and blue colors and equipped with a snow plow.
Down the road, a Hamler Hardware Co. window was covered with a sign "Out of Town on Business - P.H. Football."
That store will be open today. But thousands of people from Patrick Henry are expected to drive the 165 miles to Canton's Fawcett Stadium, including about 120 people who paid $15 each to ride on chartered buses. Classes were called off for all students today.
The Division V championship game typically draws 3,000 to 6,000 people, according to the state athletic association. But Patrick Henry Principal and volunteer football coach Gregg Pettit said the crowd might be much bigger for this title game.
Among those expected at Fawcett Stadium, which can seat 24,000 people, is the district's first football coach, Bob Bauerle, who now lives in Nebraska. He was in his 20s when he began the football program 37 years ago for the newly forming Patrick Henry School District. The Deshler, Malinta, and Hamler districts - which combined to become Patrick Henry - had been too small to have a football program.
That first season in the fall of 1968, freshman, sophomores, and juniors, spending their last year at their old schools, were bused to a central location for football practice. The next year, Patrick Henry fielded a junior varsity team for its first six games, which it won, then played varsity teams for its last three games and lost them all.
In 1970, the team played a full varsity schedule for the first time and the next year it won the league championship - against schools that had fielded football teams for decades.
"That's a truly remarkable feat," said Dave Krauss, a school counselor. "And that started it."
Mr. Krauss was a senior on that team. His son Marc is a senior on this year's team.
The team of 55 players and 20 coaches, managers, and trainers headed from Hamler to Akron where it was to practice at the University of Akron's indoor fieldhouse last night, eat pizza, and sleep in a block of 40 rooms at the Four Points by Sheraton Akron West in suburban Fairlawn.
Ten cheerleaders and the 30-member band were scheduled to go to the 3 p.m. game.
After the game, the football players are to spend a second night at the Sheraton and watch part of another division playoff game before heading back to Hamler for a welcome home at 4 p.m. tomorrow.
"Hopefully, there'll be a lot of cheering," Bryan Hieber, one of the school's athletic directors, said of plans for that event. "Basically just celebrate a great season, win or lose."
The trip to Canton for the team, cheerleaders, and band is expected to cost Patrick Henry about $10,000, district treasurer Thomas Taylor said.
The state athletic association is expected to cover at least $6,000 of that with funds from the sale of playoff tickets. And another chunk could come from tickets that Patrick Henry sells before the game. The district keeps 20 percent of the presale tickets, which were priced at $7. Tickets at the gate are $9.
No taxpayer money is to be used for the trip.
That's more help than many state athletic associations give school districts, athletic association comptroller Todd Boehm said.
All that, however, was far from the minds of fans who were making plans yesterday to watch the game.
The middle school is to be open and at least 40 students are expected to watch the game there on the Ohio News Network cable channel.
And at Kline's Kold Keg in Hamler, which often draws big crowds after Patrick Henry games, bartender and cook Linda Skillings said she expects all 100 seats to be filled and more people standing to watch the game on a big-screen television.
Beside the television is a scoreboard from the former Hamler school that the bar-restaurant will use to keep track in this game.
"I know there's a tremendous amount of excitement," Principal Pettit said. "No doubt about it."
Contact Jane Schmucker
or 419-337-7780.41.23151 -84.03246