Getting back to work: Local MVL teams focused on football, not schedule

MIAMI COUNTY — After a summer of questions and few answers, the area’s football teams found an antidote for many of their problems.

Getting back to work

And even though Ohio’s contact sports teams have still not been cleared to compete against each other in either preseason scrimmages or regular season games — and even though the Miami Valley League announced late last week that its teams would be playing a league-only schedule in all fall sports — the league’s Miami County teams found, with preseason practice having begun on Saturday, that actually playing cures much of what ails them.

“The easy part is getting on the field, because you forget all the other stuff,” Piqua coach Bill Nees said.

Ohio High School Athletic Association-sanctioned sports have officially been dormant since mid-March when the postseason basketball, hockey and wrestling tournaments were canceled, followed by the cancellation of the entire spring sports season, in an effort to slow the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. And though the coronavirus has remained and still remains a concern, teams were given the go-ahead to hold summer workouts while instituting protocols and safety measures.

“Our kids have done a great job with everything,” Tippecanoe coach Matt Burgbacher said. “There’s so much uncertainty, so many rumors, so much negativity, to be honest with you, and our kids have done a good job of just coming in and worrying about the things they can control.”

And the players have also grown accustomed to the new pre-practice protocols, so much so that following the guidelines to prevent the pandemic’s spread is part of their daily routine now.

“In July we set our standard with our protocols and guidelines, and Saturday we reiterated that and had more of a walkthrough,” Troy coach Dan Gress said. “And we tried to hammer home to the boys not getting a bad attitude about it and stressed being grateful and feeling fortunate — because not every team got to show up on Saturday and play football and be with their teammates.

“I’ve got to hand it to them, too. With the way they’re locked in and practicing, you wouldn’t be able to tell. All the outside noise, the ‘are you going to have a season or not,’ you can’t tell. We’re super proud of our boys with the attitude they have.”

“We’re taking all the precautions that we need to, and at this point all of those precautions have become a normal part of our day,” Nees said. “We don’t have to remind people to do anything. Everybody’s just doing it now. And once we’ve got that part down, everybody’s just out there practicing, and that’s where you can forget about it and just get better. Those are the important things now.”

“It’s just become second nature to them,” Burgbacher said. “They don’t even think about it. And it doesn’t take that long. At first, it sounded like it’d be a really big hassle, but not really. Our kids have done a really good job, because they know once we start working out, they can take those masks off and focus.

“Once we’re out there, aside from the coaches wearing masks and the kids having to social distance when they’re not participating, everything’s the same. Our kids are out there having fun and playing football.”

But last week, the MVL announced that its fall sports teams would only be competing against each other once the regular season begins, meaning that each of the league’s teams — Troy, Piqua, Tippecanoe, Greenville, Butler, Sidney, Fairborn, Xenia, Stebbins and West Carrollton — would lose their opening-week game.

“That’s a really good thing that we’ve got a 10-team league,” Nees said. Piqua was set to open the season at Belmont on Aug. 28. “Some of these conferences may only get five games. We’re in a pretty good spot with our scheduling.”

“That’s definitely the nice thing about having a 10-team league this year,” Gress said. “We’re a little disappointed that we’re losing Chaminade Julienne. That would’ve been a great test and a great game to open with. But it’s nice knowing that playing an MVL-only schedule will give us the best chance of having a full season, that we can all be on the same page with the same protocols, know each team is following it and is in the same geographic area.”

“When they announced that, I thought it doesn’t really affect us that much,” Burgbacher said. “Yes, we lose our one non-conference game, and we were looking forward to Mount Healthy coming up here this year. We would’ve found out real quick how good we are. But again, there’s 10 teams in this MVL, and all 10 teams are going to be pretty darn good. Our league is going to be very competitive this year. They’re telling us we have to play nine other competitive teams this year? I’ll take that.”

And in the end, the area’s teams are just hoping that they get a chance to show the results of their work this fall.

“As long as they allow us to practice or play tomorrow, that’s all we can ask for,” Burgbacher said. “Yes, our scrimmages are suspended. If that’s the worst thing that happens to us this year, we’re going to be okay. A lot can change between now and August 28, but we’ve got to focus on today and how we can be better for tomorrow. If they tell me I’ve got to wear a hazmat suit out there, I’ll wear a hazmat suit. Just tell me I can coach.

“Tell us what we can do and what we can’t, and we’re going to do it. Everyone’s playing by the same rules. I think every coach in Ohio would say the same thing — just give us a chance.”