There are traditions born in the Ohio Valley which have timeless appeal, such as the annual OVAC All-Star Charity Football Game.
While at its core it is a celebration of athletic accomplishments and potential as young athletes move from high school venues to college competitive environments, organizers long ago expanded the areas of interest the high school students who choose to become involved in this iconic annual event bring to it.
Thanks to the expansion, students can be part of this celebration who are members of a marching band, a school's dance line, cheering squad, or who are willing to step into a competitive scenario involving a number of young women individually representing their respective high school and who intend to vie for the singular title of "Queen of Queens."
T-L Photo/ Kim Loccisano
Each year, the Health Plan sponsors a Punt, Pass and Kick contest. Chester Barnabei of Weirton, who successfully completed the competition, poses with the Queen of Queens candidates and his $10,000 check.
As a feature writer, I have enjoyed developing several stories and taking accompanying photos in an effort to capture and explain the highly detailed and intensive process that goes into the annual OVAC All-Star Band's detailed selection and preparation processes, as well as those for the respective cheer squads and dance lines.
I have lived all my life in the Upper Ohio Valley, but had never before had any immediate family members involved in this intricately choreographed event until this summer when our daughter was the "Queen of Queens" candidate representing The Linsly School.
This single aspect of the annual football game brings together a group of individuals in a way unlike any other aspect of this event does, as they are all essentially competing for a single title.
This year's venture saw 19 young women from across the vast expanse of OVAC schools community coming together as the field of contestants pursuing that title.
As a reporter, photographer and a candidate's parent, I had unique access to the adventure that began unfolding for these young women as they moved through the slate of events and projects asked of them in direct support of the overall event and its outcome.
It is fair to say most adults would not expect 19 accomplished young women - most of whom were complete strangers to each other at the start of this adventure - to get along well, much less form bonds of friendship, some of which have a very real possibility of being lifelong good friends.
Clearly, the foundation of these friendships were in place by the close of the first group dance rehearsal, and became stronger each time the young ladies gathered with Queen of Queens Pageant Director Joyce Jingle, or choreographer Cheryl Pompeo of Oglebay Institute's School of Dance.
It was not long before these 19 young women essentially made the transformation from individuals in pursuit of one goal to a cohesive group working collectively for a common goal: a top quality performance by all at the talent show and a display of gracious and friendly behavior as they waited in anticipation at the football game to learn who had been selected as the overall "Queen of Queens" and who would receive several subsequent scholarship awards.
Candidly, all the Queen contestants got into the competition with the hope of being selected as the overall event queen or as a scholarship recipient. However, that simply is not possible.
What is possible: the 19 young women left the game field with something they themselves created and will always share as something rooted in the unique experience that is the OVAC All-Star Charity Football Game and accompanying Queen of Queens talent show and pageant.
Queen of Queens judge Lisa Summerour shared a personal reflection with the young women as a group on Sunday, noting they should not be surprised to find friendships will grow so strong that it is not unusual for candidates to realize their connection with the person they select as a maid of honor or as a god-parent for a child began when both were OVAC Queen of Queens contestants.
At a time when too often young and adults alike focus only on personal goals, I saw very little attention to the individual, but a great deal of focus on a collective effort built on a foundation of pride in who each person is and what they can achieve when working together as a group.
Congratulations to all who had anything to do with this unique project, as you are individually and collectively all-stars!
Loccisano can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.