Conotton not forgotten for 2012 OVAC Grid Classic

Like anything or anyone in the public eye, the Ohio Valley Athletic Conference has its detractors.

Everyone’s heard the arguments that the conference only cares about its members that are located right here in the immediate Ohio Valley.

Obviously, the city of Wheeling is the center of the conference geographically, but judging by the announcement of the coaches for this summer’s Rudy Mumley OVAC All-Star Charity Football Classic, geography doesn’t mean a thing.

A member is a member.

OVAC Executive Secretary Tom Rataiczak and Rudy Mumley OVAC All-Star Game Director Bob Koch formally extended invitations to Conotton Valley’s Mike Bigler and Madonna’s Doug Taylor to coach in the July game. Both coaches just finished their first seasons at their respective helms, posting 2-8 and 6-4 records, respectively.

Beallsville won the Class A championship last season and earned the right to coach in the game. However, because of Dave Caldwell’s retirement from the post, he and the Blue Devils passed on the assignment, which opened the door for Conotton Valley.

“Dave not only paid his dues to Beallsville and Ohio Valley football, but also to the OVAC,” Rataiczak said. “He’s probably coached the game more than any other coach, so he earned the right to say ‘no.’ It’s not like he’s not supported the game in the past.”

Ironically, Caldwell’s son, Ryan, is the superintendent and principal at Conotton Valley. He had the chance to play in the game as a senior and has been around the game numerous times throughout his life.

“I have a feeling that Ryan Caldwell is going to make sure his coaches are aware that this is a big-time event and game,” Rataiczak said.

It marks the first time the Rockets’ staff has been chosen to coach in the game since its inception into the conference. Bigler, a 1983 graduate of Conotton, can’t even come up with any names of Rockets who’ve been a part of the game.

“Conotton Valley has been a member of the OVAC since I’ve been here in 1999,” said OVAC Executive Secretary Tom Rataiczak. “So, it’s not like they’re new or have never been heard of. I think it’s kind of a neat thing to see them coming into the OVAC as full members and it’s a great way to introduce Conotton Valley to the conference.”

When Rataiczak was informed by Beallsville that it would be passing on the chance to coach, he immediately called Conotton Valley, which was the next highest finishing Ohio-side school.

“I was very shocked and surprised,” Bigler said of receiving the phone call. “I had never thought that opportunity would come my way, especially after one season.”

The Rockets had been dual members, playing in both the OVAC as well as the Inter-Valley Conference, but deemed the OVAC a better fit because of the smaller schools involved.

“The OVAC is a quality conference and being a member gives more opportunities for our student-athletes to compete against schools our size or just a little bigger, but not on the scale of (IVC opponents) Garaway and Ridgewood,” Bigler said.

The Rockets and Blue Dons’ staffs have the chance to coach the game because the OVAC re-aligned to five classes this year. In doing so, the OVAC brass made the decision to start over their rotations at 1A, which is why Class 2A was skipped after Dave Bruney and the Martins Ferry staff coached last year’s contest.

“We wanted everything to be on the same page,” Rataiczak said of altering the rotations.

The head coaches, game officials and support staff of the all-star game are scheduled to meet early next month at Bethany College, which will once again serve as headquarters for the camp.

At that meeting, both coaching staffs will receive the player nominations, which is when the difficult work begins.

“It’s going to be an interesting process,” Rataiczak said. “Usually, you know the Class A coaches know the Class A kids and so on, but I think Coach Bigler is going to be savvy enough to realize that if you load up with Class A players, you could be in for a rude awakening.”

Bigler, who’s never coached in an all-star game, admits choosing the team will be the most difficult part, but he and his staff plan on giving the job its due diligence.

“We’re going to have to be very selective,” Bigler said. “We want to pick the best athletes available to fill the positions we need. It’s really tough because there are a lot of athletes who won’t be chosen due to rules and roster size, but I am really anxious to get the packet of nominees. We’re jumping into this 100 percent committed to put the best student-athletes on the field to represent the great state of Ohio.”


  • FREDDIE FITZSIMMONS of Wheeling recently recorded a hole-in-one on the 215-yard No. 4 hole at Wheeling Park. The 13-year old golfer used a 3-wood for his shot, which was witnessed by Hunter Bryan, Colin Bryan and David Coram. Fitzsimmons’ golf resume is certainly building. He was the champion of the Elks Junior Tournament and represented the Elks in the Seven Springs tournament. He plays on the Ohio County Middle School Golf Team.
  • THE OHSAA held its Board of Directors meeting for January late last week. It was formally approved for the OHSAA to sponsor a cross country invitational at National Trail Raceway, which is the site for the state meet. The invitational wouldn’t count against the team’s 16-meet alotment.

Staskey can be reached via email at or on Twitter @TLSportsSeth