Relationships outweigh the final score for Ohio squad

Don’t think for a minute that all 32 players on the Ohio squad in Sunday night’s 68th annual Rudy Mumley OVAC All-Star didn’t want to win the game in the worst way. Obviously, if no one cared about winning they wouldn’t keep score or invest a week practicing.

However, many people – getting caught up in the moment – often times lose sight of the big picture.

The OVAC Game is so much more than just a football game.

That goes for every possible way to look at the game. Whether it’s for the band , queens or the cheerleaders, the week of the OVAC All-Star Game creates lasting memories for all those involved and the kids are the reason the game and OVAC exists.

With the advent of social media, keeping in touch is much simpler than it once was when the game began or even when I was in high school in the late 90s.

That social media angle also allows the players to know many of the others long before they even arrive at camp.

But, the bonding that goes on during the week at Bethany College is what the players will always remember as they Tweet and text one another even years from now when they’ve long gone their separate ways.

I’d not be surprised that some of these guys invite others to their weddings down the road or even ask one to be in their wedding.

Martins Ferry’s Trent Neavin – who is one of the most determined and competitive athletes I’ve covered – wanted to win the game in the worst way. But, inside the Ohio lockerroom, he spoke about how the team became so close knit during the week.

“We wanted to win, but at the end of the day, I’ve made brothers,” Neavin said. “These guys mean the world to me and that’s all that really matters. I’m not upset about losing because of the friends I’ve made. I came back from Pitt wanting to win, but this whole week has just been a great experience.”

The OVAC game also brings rivals together. For instance, St. Clairsville’s Luke Smith and Harrison Central’s Nick Pelegreen were rivals on the field. Heck, their teams played each other twice last season.

They were roommates this past week and learned plenty about one another.

“I couldn’t believe how cool Nick was and I wouldn’t have ever known that if not for this game,” Smith said. “You hear coming into this how you’ll make life-long friends and you really do. I plan on keeping in touch with most of these guys.”

Pelegreen, St. Clairsville’s Matt Kinnick and Corey Ernest were all afforded the opportunity to play in the prestigious Ohio North-South Game in April.

While the competition is stiff as countless future major college players suit up, there was no comparison for Pelegreen, at least, for the entire week.

“This was an amazing experience,” Pelegreen said. “The atmosphere at this game is much better, which made the game a lot more fun to play in. I enjoyed the OVAC Game more.”

The relationships don’t just go for the players, either.

Ohio head coach Mark Holenka and many of his staff returned to their team at Shadyside early this morning to resume preparations for their upcoming regular season.

He took four of his own former Tigers’ players with him to the game, but he left with 28 others calling him “coach.”

“We got close to these kids in just a week’s time,” Holenka said. “The big plus of this game is that these players have 31 other guys that they can honestly call their friend.”

Staskey can be reached at