Serious travels for the love of football
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- I had a couple of neat things cross my desk recently relating to high school football.
The state of West Virginia figures prominently into a whale of a fantasy football trip being planned this October by a father and his two stepsons from the northwest - Wayne Lundberg and Brent and Steve Meiser.
They are coming east for a venture that could include five games at various levels and a visit to the Pro Football Hall of Fame - all in less than one week.
Right now, Lundberg, who lives in Redmond, Wash. (near Seattle), and Brent Meiser, 39, from Nampa, Idaho, plan to fly to Cleveland on Wednesday, Oct. 16, and tour the Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. Then they'll be joined the following day by Steve Meiser, 36, from Sherwood, Ore., after he finishes a business trip in Harrisburg, Pa.
Most likely, that trio will watch an Ohio high school game to be determined on the Thursday night, then drive down to West Virginia the following day and, on Friday night, Oct. 18, take in the George Washington at Cabell Midland high school contest that matches teams that finished as runners-up in the last two Class AAA state title games.
The next day, Lundberg and his sons travel up Interstate 79 to Morgantown for the Texas Tech-WVU game, then move up to the pro ranks Sunday for Ravens vs. Steelers at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, a 4:25 p.m. kickoff on Oct. 20. Before they're done, they'll fly to Newark, N.J., to take in some Monday Night Football flavor as the New York Giants host the Minnesota Vikings.
"We're going to create a lot of great memories along the way,'' Wayne Lundberg said. "It's just delightful. It's not an effort at all.''
I first got wind of their whirlwind tour in late June when Wayne called our office inquiring about a good West Virginia high school game to attend on Oct. 17 or 18. I told him I was typing in the entire statewide schedule that very day and would get back to him when I finished. Unfortunately, there were no prep games in West Virginia on that Thursday.
As more and more details spilled out about their trip, Wayne asked if I could also hook them up instead with a Thursday high school game somewhere in Ohio. So I contacted a friend in Ohio about getting me a list of high school games, and there were eight to choose from.
I have a feeling they might wind up just north of Columbus at the game pitting Westerville Central (7-3 last year) at Westerville South (8-3). There are three games that night closer to Canton (their starting point), but none is a better matchup than Central-South, and they could catch a glimpse of the Ohio state capital and perhaps 102,000-seat Ohio Stadium on Woody Hayes Drive. The other available games are in the Toledo, Cincinnati or Dayton areas.
As per Wayne's original inquiry, I narrowed down Friday's West Virginia high school games to two - Elkins at Wheeling Park and GW at Midland. I suggested the former simply because Wheeling was closer to Canton and would have made for an easier trip to Morgantown the next day. Plus, they'd get to see a football rarity, Elkins' single-wing offense, on the field turf at Wheeling Island Stadium, which should be a good show.
But Lundberg said he and his sons weren't opposed to driving through the Kanawha Valley on Friday for a better game and then heading up to Morgantown late that night. So I'll be forwarding him directions to Ona in the coming days.
That is, unless that GW-Midland game is moved to Thursday for local television, as is currently being discussed. In that case, Lundberg and sons will likely skip Ohio and come to West Virginia a day earlier to attend that game, then I'll help them find another worthwhile Friday night contest elsewhere in our state.
Wayne explained that he and Steve made a similar trip four years ago, hitting the Trinity-L.D. Bell high school game near Dallas on a Thursday, taking in the Louisiana Tech-Boise State game in Ruston, La., on a Friday night, then drove four hours to get halfway to Tuscaloosa, Ala., so they could make the Saturday afternoon LSU game at Alabama. The next day, they flew to Philadelphia for the Eagles-Cowboys Monday nighter, then flew to Cleveland for a visit to the Pro Football Hall and then back home.
"An absolute blast,'' Wayne Lundberg said.
Lundberg, 70, apparently can't sit still very long. He and his wife, Diane, just took a three-week cruise in Europe that ended Aug. 1.
Earlier this summer, I wrote a feature on how Class A football teams in southern West Virginia are forced to travel long distances for games against teams their size because the schools are getting farther and farther apart following consolidations.
Some teams are separated by 200 or more miles and three to four hours of driving time. But in at least one other state, those are considered quick trips.
My feature prompted a reader in Marlinton, Robert C. Smith, to write a letter and send along a copy of a story that ran a few years ago in the Anchorage Daily News about the prohibitive expenses of travel for rural high school sports teams in Alaska, where Smith formerly lived.
Schools in "The Last Frontier'' regularly travel a lot longer to play games in a spacious state where no roads exist between many of the towns. Trips can only be made by airplane or ferry boat, with some of those excursions taking as long as 17 hours.
One of the state conferences, the Railbelt, spans an area the size of Florida. The Greatland Conference covers the length of the 800-mile trans-Alaska pipeline. Conference games may involve a flight the equivalent of going from Chicago to New York.
Smith, who lived in Sitka, located on the outer coast of the Alaska Panhandle in the southernmost part of the state, said all the high school teams had travel problems.
"Travel to and from the Southeast Alaska Regional Tournaments sometimes takes a week,'' Smith said in his letter. "Some of the athletes and fans fly because you can't drive between the towns. The bulk of the travelers go by State Ferries, which can hold up to 500 people each. Our teams sometimes play against the Anchorage or Fairbanks teams. These towns are more than 600 miles away.
"High school basketball, baseball, softball, wrestling and others schedule games over the weekend with the opposing teams. There are multiple games. The visiting athletes are housed by families in the towns hosting the games. Often the athlete may be living with the family that has a son or daughter that is on the opposition. Long-time friends are made in these situations.''
Needless to say, it costs quite a bit of money to play those games, especially football, where programs are possible in many towns only because of aggressive fundraising by nonprofit football associations. The associations must also pay for the bulk of travel expenses for the visiting team, usually up to 22 plane tickets or 50 ferry tickets.
Some school districts provide a small amount of money, but dedicated players spend plenty of time fundraising on top of their own participation fees of $400 or so - it could be selling raffle tickets, program ads or taking part in a work detail where they can be hired at an hourly rate by anyone to do odd jobs. That's both in season and out of season.
At these schools, a player's ability to sell ads or raffle tickets is just as crucial as the ability to block or tackle. Unfortunately, that commitment doesn't always guarantee a player makes the traveling squad. If the team flies, players not among the top 22 don't go.
The article also recounted Juneau-South's 2007 season in which it won a Large School football playoff semifinal game in Anchorage - the trip cost $11,000 - and the president of the local youth football league was worried that a return trip the following week for the title game might bust his group's yearly travel budget of $180,000.
"It does put you in a strange situation,'' said the group president, James Lockwood. "You want to win, of course, but a gnawing little voice tells you, 'If we lose, we'll save $14,000.' ''
Reach Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or firstname.lastname@example.org.