ST. MARYS, Pa. (EYT/D9) — Everyone is optimistic in August.
But this year, there are more good vibes going around District 9 football teams than in most preseasons.
(Pictured above: Redbank Valley’s contingent at the District 9 Football Media Day are, from left: Chris Marshall, Ray Schreckengost, Joe Mansfield, coach Blane Gold, Marquese Gardlock, and Gunner Mangiantini.)
That’s because there is a semblance of normalcy again, as evidenced by the 22 district schools gathering at St. Marys High School for the District 9 Media Day on Wednesday morning.
“We’re looking forward to giving these guys their Friday night lights back,” said Union/A-C Valley coach Brad Dittman.
Friday nights in 2020 were a bit hollow because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the restrictions the virus caused.
Crowds were limited. Stadiums felt like empty tombs. It was difficult to get jazzed for football in the relative silence.
Then, there was the doubt. What if our opponent has an outbreak? What if we have an outbreak?
It resulted in an eerie, downright weird season.
“It’s definitely something I never experienced, ever,” said Union/A-C Valley linebacker Carter Terwint. “I don’t want to go through that again.
“It was nice for making play calls and stuff,” he added, grinning. “But, it wasn’t for me. I didn’t like it.”
Normal was a popular word at St. Marys on Wednesday. Everyone longed for it, and the media day was a sign that things were getting there.
Bonnie Wolbert was looking forward to giving the 22 coaches and athletic directors and the 59 players they all brought with them an event again that signals the unofficial start to the season.
Last year, the media day was canceled because of COVID. This year, Wolbert, who is the athletic director at North Clarion High School, helped organize the proceedings again.
It’s not an easy task. District 9 covers a lot of acreage.
“People always ask, ‘Why are you going to St. Marys all the time, Bonnie?’” Wolbert said. “Many people don’t understand when you look at what District 9 is shaped like — in the lower left-hand corner is Butler County and at the top is the New York state line — and where’s the center of the district? St. Marys.”
Wolbert remembers traveling with the North Clarion baseball team to a playoff game against Oswayo Valley. It’s a prime example of the sheer size of the district.
“I had to leave the state of Pennsylvania and go into New York, drive five miles down the road and then go back into Pennsylvania,” Wolbert said. “That’s how far away Oswayo Valley is from North Clarion.”
On Wednesday, everyone was glad to make the trip from their school to St. Marys again.
“It beats working,” Terwint quipped.
For Central Clarion coach Dave Eggleton, it’s a chance to check out the competition and interact before the competition ramps up. He said it was also nice to have the event again.
“Not having the event last year, it really makes you appreciate everything the district does,” Eggleton said.
For the five members of the Redbank Valley football team that made the journey with coach Blane Gold — Marquese Gardlock, Gunner Mangiantini, Joe Mansfield, Chris Marshall, and Ray Schreckengost — it was another opportunity to bond.
“Me, personally, the most fun is the drive here and the drive back,” Gardlock said. “It’s always a good time with your teammates driving somewhere to go to an event.”
Gold was happy to hear that. He knows a lot of the memories players make happen outside of the white lines.
“Just to give you a little inside info, Gunner has a four-door sedan … and I have a 4Runner,” Gold said. “Every single one of these guys rode in one car, and I drove here by myself.
“Last year, the seniors didn’t get to experience this,” Gold added. “It’s cool that they get this, and they get to experience this and have fun. That’s what we want to do. Just have fun.”
“I liked putting the jersey on,” added Marshall, grinning. “I think they look good.”
For most of the coaches and players, it was a signal that the 2021 campaign was right around the corner.
“This is a great experience,” said Moniteau’s Maverick Sutton. “You know, we wait all year — I know I do — for football season to roll around, so to come to something like this, you’re getting a small look at other teams. It gets you in the right mindset that it’s football season. We’re ready to play.”