Football: Opening night 'means the world' to teams, families

DAVE PURPURA
dpurpura@thisweeknews.com
Members of the Upper Arlington football team stand for the national anthem before their season-opening game against Westerville Central on Aug. 28.

Under her mask, Chrissie Landolfi’s face was red from the heat and humidity and her eyes were watering as she prepared to sell water and programs for the Upper Arlington football team’s season-opening game against Westerville Central on Aug. 28.

Or were those tears?

“I’m warm and emotional,” Landolfi said with a chuckle.

The mother of three sons to have played for the Golden Bears, Landolfi admitted there were times she wasn’t sure her youngest, senior linebacker Marco, would have a chance to enjoy his final prep season.

The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic already cost him his junior lacrosse season in the spring, but at 5:53 p.m., he and his teammates entered Marv Moorehead Memorial Stadium for the first time on game night under new coach Justin Buttermore.

Seventy-two minutes later, they kicked off and put a preseason of uncertainty behind them, as did hundreds of other teams across the state right about the same time.

“It means the world to us to be out here right now, letting our boys have this opportunity one last time for the seniors,” Chrissie Landolfi said. “You wanted them to have something to look forward to. A lot of our boys are multisport athletes and they lost their spring seasons and to get the chance to come back out and play again is just exciting. It feels good to have some normalcy.”

In addition to masking and social-distance protocols, an order from Gov. Mike DeWine mandated attendance to be 15 percent of capacity with tickets limited to families of athletes.

Officials spotted the football with bean bags rather than placing the ball. Observers assigned by the Ohio High School Athletic Association were present at several games to monitor compliance.

There were no team handshakes, and while UA used its locker room, Central’s makeshift locker room was under the visiting bleachers.

UA athletics director Tony Pusateri estimated that the home stands could hold just more than 600 fans and the visiting stands a bit less.

“I’ve been to golf, I’ve been to tennis, I’ve been to soccer and field hockey. It’s so neat to watch these kids just be out here and performing,” Pusateri said. “It was like a horse coming out of the stall running. They’re so excited. They’ve done so well. The coaches and kids have done a great job of sticking to the rules. It’s tough. It gets old after a while. We started June 1 and we’re still doing well.”

The season began the night before, when Hilliard Davidson edged Hilliard Darby 17-13.

Thirty-two games were played across the area Aug. 28, although some endured lengthy delays because of storms. Defending Division I state champion Pickerington Central plays host to Pickerington North on Aug. 30.

“We got a lot of signage out, so everybody knew what they were doing. I thought people stayed spread out pretty well. They kept their masks on,” Dublin Jerome athletics director Joe Bline said. “Our kids will try to have something that is somewhat kind of normal for them and helps them balance their academics and their personal lives with sports.”

Longtime rivals DeSales and Watterson opened against each other Aug. 28, but not at the Eagles’ longtime home of Hagely Field. The game was moved to a field at the school that generally is for football practices, field hockey and soccer.

There was no press box or concession stand. Roughly 300 fans saw the Stallions’ 28-22 overtime win.

“It’s a lot different without our crowd,” DeSales wide receiver Jordan Johnson said. “We just have to zone in a little bit better and bring our own energy. The pandemic put a hold on everything and a lot of seniors aren’t playing right now, but we got a chance.”

Chrissie Landolfi and her husband, John, only half-jokingly asked Marco if he wanted to wear a shirt and tie to his online classes Aug. 28, a game-day tradition for UA players.

“He declined,” she said, smiling. “This is what they gear up for pretty much all year round. That first Friday night under the lights, it’s big.”

dpurpura@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekDave

Westerville Central assistant coach Nick Richardson fires up his players Aug. 28 against Upper Arlington.