The 17th annual Regional All-Star Football Game at Springfield High School tonight will involve recent graduates from 20 northwest Ohio high schools.
Most schools represented in the game will have multiple players donning their school helmets.
Whitmer's presence on the Black team - eight players - is unprecedented for the nearly two-decades-long summertime contest that has provided many area athletes with one last opportunity to represent their respective high schools on the football field.
Brett Keller, Devon McCreary, Tim Samson, Brandon Fischer, Donald Molloy, Gilbert Watts, Joshua Bates, and Michael Hyttenhove were all members of a Whitmer team that posted a 9-4 record and advanced to the third round of the Division I playoffs last fall.
Fond memories from a season that included upsetting previously undefeated and sixth-ranked Fremont Ross, 21-17, and Massillon Washington, 14-10, served as inspiration for the sizable Panther turnout.
"Our coach [Joe Palka] asked us if we wanted to play in this game and pretty much all of us raised our hands," said Keller, a 6-foot-6, 300-pound offensive lineman. "It's one last time playing together with the fellas."
Kickoff for the game established by Perrysburg boosters is set for 7:30.
Perrysburg athletic director Ray Pohlman said he couldn't recall having as many players representing one high school as this year's turnout from Whitmer. A half-dozen Perrysburg graduates played in the game a few years back.
"It's one more time to play a high school football game," said McCreary, a 6-2, 280-pound offensive lineman, who, along with Keller, plans to join the University of Toledo football team. in the fall as preferred walk-ons.
The teams for the all-star game are assembled by a draft of the players expressing interest in the game.
Tinora's Ken Krouse and Toledo Christian's John Miller are co-head coaches for the Black team while Eastwood's Jerry Rutherford and Cardinal Stritch's Tony Beier are head coaches for the Gold squad. It is not certain how many of the Panthers will actually share the field at the same time during the game, but all figure to see some playing time.
"You can tell they've been well-coached," Miller said. "It's been a pleasant experience to step in and coach them for a week's time."
Samson, a six-foot, 210-pounder, plans to focus on his studies when he begins college in the fall at UT.
"Everyone is going separate ways and this is definitely going to be special to play together one last time," Samson said.
Fischer, a 6-4, 285-pounder, said he became interested immediately in playing in the all-star contest along with his teammates. He said the large turnout of Panthers for the game is indicative of the players' camaraderie last season.
"We always got along," said Fischer, a defensive lineman. "We played as a team. We always communicated whatever was going on. I don't think we ever had a fight take place in practice."
Of course, a season-ending 49-7 loss to Canton McKinley in a Region 2 final last season is something the eight Panthers have not forgotten.
"To be honest, we want to have another chance to play together so we want to win together one more time," Fischer said.
The game is at Springfield because of work at Perrysburg's Steinecker Stadium. This is the first year the game will not be held at Perrysburg.
Contact Donald Emmons at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6302