No petition needed: Players receive Penn-Ohio all-star jerseys after all

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Wednesday, July 15, 2020 | 7:12 PM


Each spring, select senior football players from around Western Pennsylvania receive the opportunity to test their mettle against seniors from Ohio in the annual Penn-Ohio Classic.

This year’s battle between border rivals, which would’ve been the 41st annual game, was canceled in late April due to the coronavirus pandemic. The game was set to be played in June at Springfield High School in Ohio.

The game alternates between states each year and was played at Geneva College in Beaver Falls last year.

Players getting robbed of their opportunity to play in the annual game was just the start of the unusual circumstances, though. Normally, the players in the game get to keep their jerseys, which become a keepsake over time. Because of the cancellation, there was a delay in the delivery of the jerseys. Earlier this week, however, Pennsylvania players started to receive their mementos.

“That was actually a big thing that me and my buddy (Jackson Thomas) were looking forward to,” Beaver’s Dante Castagna said. “We were really excited whenever we got picked for it because it’s one more opportunity to play football with the kids you’ve been playing with since you were 6 years old. So, we were really excited for it.”

After the game got canceled, there was a little bit of miscommunication between coaches and players. A few of the seniors didn’t think they were getting their jerseys. Castagna even started a petition which garnered over 400 signatures.

Neil Thach, who is a Penn-Ohio game organizer on the Pennsylvania side, said the plan, from the beginning, was to give the players their jerseys. It was just a matter of actually being able to get them from the manufacturer.

“As I’m sure you’re hearing, it’s hard to get anything,” Thach said. “So we worked with our Riddell rep and he was able to track down some jerseys and get it done. It took about five or six weeks, but we were able to get them to the kids this past week, and I think everyone is happy with that.”

Beaver coach Jeff Beltz, who made Castagna aware of the plan to get the players their jerseys, said everyone has shared a few laughs about the situation with the benefit of hindsight.

“It’s definitely pretty funny looking back on it, that’s for sure,” Castagna said.

In addition to keeping their jerseys, players selected to the game have always been able to exchange helmet stickers with players from other teams and receive a few other perks. So MAC president Luke Travelpiece, who is also the football coach at South Side, put his head together with a few other coaches to think of a way to honor the players who missed that chance.

Giving them the opportunity to have a keepsake from the game was just one thing they came up with.

“We wanted to give them an opportunity to display it. Many of them won’t ever wear it, but they could display it and they could put it up on their wall,” Travelpiece said. “It’s kind of a memento, like, ‘Hey, I was a pretty darn good football player in high school.’ We just wanted to honor them as much as possible.”

If the game would have happened as scheduled, the team Pennsylvania put together would’ve been something special. It might’ve been one of the deepest rosters in recent memory.

The three quarterbacks on the roster, Ben Hughes of Riverside, Zaier Harrison of Cornell and Jackson Hall of New Brighton, all threw for over 2,000 yards as seniors this year. Central Valley’s Reed Fitzsimmons tallied 161 tackles and 20 tackles for a loss. Blackhawk’s Josh Butcher ran for 660 yards this season and recorded 67 tackles as well.

There was plenty of talent to go around, and even though Travelpiece wasn’t coaching in the game, he was looking forward to seeing the team in action.

“I can speak especially to the guys in Class 2A because I coached against a lot of them and there is a lot of talent there for sure,” Travelpiece said. “I know that the guys (South Side was) sending were two pretty special athletes and the guys that we played against, top to bottom, we had a pretty good roster put together.”

Pennsylvania Roster

Ambridge: Jacob Traupman, Makai Pringle

Beaver: Dante Castagna, Jackson Thomas

Beaver Falls: Darius Nesmith, Noah Vaughan

Blackhawk: Ryan Heckathorn, Josh Butcher

Central Valley: Reed Fitzsimmons, Jake Wilson

Cornell: Zaier Harrison, Savon Wilson

Ellwood City: Noah Bunney

Freedom: Kevin Lawrence, Max Ujhazy

Hopewell: Jay’von Jeter, Alex Obeidobel

Laurel: Dom Wade, Dan Blank

Mohawk: Hunter Faulk, Nick Beam

Moon: Logan Young, Brenden Luffey

New Brighton: Jackson Hall, Dylan Hupp

OLSH: Eric Olexa

Quaker Valley: Donovan Cutchember

Riverside: Ben Hughes, Nate Sciarro

Rochester: Mike Lucci

Shenango: Anthony Campoli, Maddox Smiley

South Side: Brandon Barber, Trenton Seik

Western Beaver: Zach Altenbaugh, Noah Gray

Greg Macafee is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Greg by email at gmacafee@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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