WHEELING - High school football returns in grand fashion Thursday evening.
The fourth annual McDonald's OVAC Kickoff Night is set with two games slated for Wheeling Island Stadium and Kettlewell Memorial Stadium in Wintersville.
"We're excited and everything is just about ready to go," said Kickoff Night director James Companion. "We're looking forward to good, competitive games. We look at this event as a celebration of the start of the season."
The action gets under way on Wheeling Island at 5 p.m. when Bishop Donahue and Cameron clash. Half an hour after that game's completition, Wheeling Central and Harrison Central will meet for the second straight season.
This marks the first time, the Kickoff Night is utilizing Indian Creek's facility after spending its first three seasons at Harding Stadium in Steubenville.
The host Redskins and Weir High will get things started at 5:30 p.m. and then 30 minutes after that game's completion, Beallsville and Madonna will meet.
"We're excited for the new site," Companion said. "We've had several meetings with Indian Creek's staff and they've been excellent to work with. They're well-organized and their support groups are excited to pitch in and help out."
The Kickoff Weekend continues on Friday when Wheeling Park hosts Keyser, which is the defending Class AA state runnerup in West Virginia.
"We're excited that we have OVAC schools with great tradition and history playing on Thursday," Companion said.
Companion didn't have any early ticket sale figures, but reported that the interest has once again been high.
"Every year our crowds have grown," Companion said. "We're getting a lot of inquiries about it, but it's hard to tell at this time just how the tickets are selling. We're expecting great crowds at Indian Creek. It might be tough for this year's crowds in Wheeling to top those games from last year."
The schedule of games wasn't formally announced until the middle of June.
Putting that schedule of games together is "the most challening" part of the whole event, according to Companion.
"It takes months and months to put the pieces together," Companion said. "It's particularly challenging because of the playoff systems in both states. Plus, we obviously want to make sure the whole process is worthwhile from a revenue standpoint. We want to make sure that the money is equal or more than they would have made at their own facility."
Along with the schools, proceeds from this weekend's events will also benefit the Ronald McDonald House.
When the event first started, Companion had several fan-oriented type things available, but he's scaled back and shifted the focus strictly to the games.
"We want the attention on the kids," Companion said. "We've experimented and we've learned that the fans want to see the games. I think most people understand the importance of providing a positive experience."
Companion believes the Kickoff Night could continue to jockey to other venues around the OVAC as multiple schools have expressed an interest in hosting events.
"There are a lot of attractive sites such as St. Clairsville, Martins Ferry, Weir and others that could possibly host down the road," Companion said. "We're happy where we are this year and we'll start looking at next year and the future down the road."
The gates open at both venues one hour before the first kickoff and one ticket is good for both games at each venue.
Staskey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org