Updated Thu, Oct 20, 2011 10:24 am
As the sun set on September 16, 2010, the community of Athens was in a state of disbelief. Earlier that evening, multiple tornadoes had rocked the area causing widespread destruction. The most notable damage, however, may have come at Athens High School’s R. Basil Rutter Field.
The press box was pummeled, the concession stand was crushed, and the bleachers were beaten by the power of the storm. Several neighboring houses had suffered catastrophic damage and local mobile homes had been torn or flipped. Rows of pine trees were destroyed. Rutter Field itself had been ripped to shreds. The scoreboard and field goal posts were dysfunctional. Grass and mud were dispersed throughout the parking lot.
“It took us all by shock, needless to say.” Reflected Athens’ varsity football head coach Ryan Adams, “It was just something that you could never imagine happening here. You know, this is a place that doesn’t get tornados.”
It was quickly apparent that the damage to the facility was substantial. The complex was in shambles. Seeing as how the field was scattered throughout the surrounding area, it was quickly understood that sporting events scheduled to take place at the field would have to be put on hold for a while.
The 2010 Athens Bulldogs had suddenly become a parallel of the 2005 New Orleans Saints. They were homeless.
Now, over a year later, walking through the gate of the new Rutter Field is like walking into the aftermath of an episode of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.
One could mistake the current venue for that of a Division-III collegiate stadium. The press box, concession stand, and bleachers have all been repaired. The natural grass on the old field has been replaced by an artificial grassy surface. The scoreboard has been pimped; an LCD screen has been added, sealing the professional atmosphere of the facility.
Lining the perimeter of the property is a brick wall that utilizes granite to produce the phrase “AHS Bulldogs”. The wall is covered with names of those who donated to the relief effort headed by the “Bulldog Blitz” organization. Countless people throughout the Athens community contributed to the multi-million-dollar renovation of the home of high school football at AHS.
Now, instead of having to change in a foreign locker room, the Bulldogs have their own fieldhouse. Now instead of travelling to each contest, the Bulldogs have one of the most state-of-the-art stadiums in southeastern Ohio, at which to host contests.
The senior high student-athletes are able to have these new privileges because of the combined effort of hundreds of volunteers and thousands of donators in the local community who helped fund the revamping of the facility.
Adams continually reminded his team before the start of the season about how the community stepped up. He would ask players, “now what are you gonna give back this year?”
So how have the Bulldogs’ football players showed their gratitude? They have won every single game that they have played on it this season.
As a matter of fact, they have won every game they have played away from home as well. The team is undefeated at 8-0, tied for first place in the conference, and in position to make the playoffs for the first time in nearly two decades.
“It’s a special feeling, knowing that we have one of the best places in southeastern Ohio to play,” said Josh Skinner, Athens’ senior captain and starting quarterback. “It’s just something we’ve got to respect and defend. It’s our field.”
They have defended it well so far. The Bulldogs have thrashed each of their opponents this season, winning by a combined score of 288-89. Their average margin of victory is nearly 25 points per game.
There are three regular-season games remaining. The Bulldogs will host the Alexander Spartans this week and travel to Wellston to take on the Golden Rockets in the penultimate matchup of the year.
The final game slated on the schedule is against rival Nelsonville-York, the other unbeaten team in the TVC-Ohio.
There is dramatic potential oozing from this game that is still weeks away. There is a chance that the Bulldogs and the Buckeyes will both be sitting on 9-0 records when they meet. If this scenario were to unfold, the winner of the skirmish would win the outright conference title, something Athens has not done in four decades.
Oh yeah, and the game is scheduled to be played in Athens.
The community will undoubtedly be out in full force to support their football team trying to do something they have not accomplished since the Pittsburgh Pirates were World Series champions. And if the team were to finally break the drought, the locals would be able to see the green and gold celebrate the title on the new field that they all had a part of establishing.
“I really don’t like to look ahead, especially past a quality opponent like Alexander,” Adams said, “But If we would be so fortunate…I think [winning the TVC-Ohio] would be extra special for us considering what we went through this past season.”
Considering that the grass and dirt from the old field were upheaved just over a year ago, winning a 40-year-awaited title against an archrival on a brand new “field of dreams” that was funded by a resilient community would be an extra special moment indeed.