By TED RADICK
McCOMB — From her spot behind the bar at the McComb VFW, Angela Shellenberger has as good a finger on the pulse of the village as anyone.
Shellenberger says the excitement around town is palpable as the McComb Panthers prepare to play Glouster Trimble for the Division VII state football championship at 10 a.m. today at Canton’s Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium.
“I don’t know of anyone who’s not going to be there, or trying to get there and trying to bunk with people,” she said. “Everybody’s really excited.”
Shellenberger said she’s heading for the game this morning. Between the crowd leaving today and those who booked hotel rooms Friday night, she said it’s pretty much up to the last person leaving the village to turn out the lights.
“I doubt it,” she said when asked if there will be anyone left in McComb today. “I doubt there will be many here Friday night, either.”
“It was pretty scarce around here in 1983,” said 1979 McComb High graduate Gary Swain, remembering the village’s population the day of that state championship game.
“This is bringing back memories of ’83. 1983 was awesome and now, being a little older, it’s really hitting home,” he said.
Swain has a connection with both the 1983 championship team and this year’s group.
“Jerry Mapes was my next-door neighbor,” he said of McComb’s all-state running back from the 1983 team. “We used to play out in the side yards and his mother always used to say, ‘If he ever becomes anything, it’s because of you boys.’ Back in the day, we played tackle football and Jerry always got the ball.”
Current players Andrew Smith and Tanner Schroeder did work this summer for Swain.
“I got to know Tanner this summer, he was helping the Smith boy mow yards,” Swain said. “I was just joking around about getting someone to mow my yard, and someone gave me Smith’s name. I talked to him, and he said he had another guy that helped him named Tanner Schroeder.
“I talked to the boys, and I told them you don’t find high school boys that mow yards nowadays. I’m pretty picky with my yard, but I’m going to hire you guys. So, I had them mow my yard this summer.”
Brent Sherick, a 2003 McComb grad, has two nephews on this year’s team in senior Tristan Sherick and freshman Kaden Sherick.
“It’s awesome. There’s a lot of teams that have been close to this point, but have never got to the state finals since 1983.
“This is big,” Sherick said. “Big for the community. Big for our football program, big for coach (Kris) Alge. There’s not another coach that deserves it more than him, that’s for sure. Everybody’s hyped up for it, and they have every reason to be.
“It definitely brings a small community like McComb and Hoytville together. That’s nice, because what was the last thing to bring this community together? Anymore, it’s been everybody distancing themselves from everyone else. Something like this, it brings everyone together, which is what small towns need. So, that’s big.”
Larry Sudlow is part of a group of McComb alumni who helped put together a statistical history of the school’s football program.
“It just does a lot for the community, period,” Sudlow said of the championship game.
“The superintendent (Tony Fenstermaker) bought 40 tickets to give to the kids in the cafeteria. He asked if they were going, and if they said yes he gave them a ticket. That was really nice of him.”
Sudlow said he expects to see fans from around the Blanchard Valley Conference at today’s game.
“The whole county was there in 1983,” he said. “There were a lot of letter jackets from the area schools. Even now, I’ve seen that at the playoff games.”
“We have a long row to hoe with only 31 boys” on the team, Larry Crates said. “Obviously, we have 31 boys that want to play football.
“Obviously, we want them to go all the way. Obviously, we’ll be there to root them on. Hopefully, it’s a good game.”
Jack Payne is part of the chain gang at McComb home games.
“We haven’t been through this since 1983, and I went all the way with them when they went in ’83,” Payne said. “I went down to Columbus in 1983 and watched them play there.
“It’s just about as exciting now as it was back then. It’s just a shame they can’t play in (Ohio State’s) Shoe. It’s not, I don’t want to say sad, but it would exciting for the boys to play in the Horseshoe. Canton’s not too bad, the Hall of Fame is not too shabby, but it’s not the Shoe.”
Payne said this year’s team reminds him of the 1983 championship squad.
“It’s very similar,” he said. “They both have a very good, heartbeating player. They had Jerry Mapes then and now they have Tanner Schroeder. I think they’re very similar teams, and they both have very tough defenses.
“It’s a great honor to make it this far. It’s exciting. I hope for the best for them.”
“It’s pretty much what Jack said,” said Jim Smith. “The defenses are very similar, and we had the Mapes boy then. I was at that game. Now we have the Schroeder boy, and the Schroeder boy is maybe a little more multidimensional. Mapes was just fast, and could cut.
“The town, they’ll have a big backing there and from the BVC schools, as well. Like The Courier said (Wednesday) morning, in the stands we were chanting ‘BVC, BVC’ in the 1983 game because there were a lot more people there than just McComb. That was everybody in that crowd. I’m sure on Saturday, there will be a lot of people there from around the conference.
“Take Pandora as an example. If we win, they can say they beat the team that won the state championship.
“I think around town, for sure there is a buzz over it.”
Shellenberger said she’s enjoying the ride the football team has brought the McComb community along for.
“There’s lots of fun stuff on social media, and that’s pretty neat to watch,” she said.
“My daughter, Jordan Pierce, is a cheerleader and a majorette. She’s really excited. She’s all cheerleader, all the time. This is fantastic for her. She can’t wait, she cried when they won last week.
“Really, I’m just glad this has all happened while she’s still in high school.”