BARBERTON — The steady downpour at Rudy Sharkey Stadium on Friday night almost seemed appropriate.
For months, players and coaches and parents had battled another storm, not knowing if the Magics would be able to take the field this season to show their mettle.
Players had practiced week after week, never sure if their chance to play under the lights would come. Parents had overcome fears sparked by a persistent pandemic, knowing how badly their children needed to be with their teammates to prepare for the chance to battle their foes.
“This is a huge moment,” Barberton High School football coach Tony Gotto said as the scoreboard clock counted down the minutes to a delayed kickoff.
Gotto said his players battled adversity all summer for the opportunity to play.
“You talk about the game of football — it’s more than just a game,” he said. “… There’s a lot of life lessons from the game.”
Among those is the payoff from hard work. On Friday, it was clear the players were eager for their reward — a contest against the Stow Bulldogs, bitter rivals from the north. But Gotto said the game signified more than a sports event on a stormy August night.
“They are ready to get back to life as we know it or as close as possible,” Gotto said.
After the uncertainties created by the coronavirus crisis, the thunder and lightning and sheets of rain were just another test, another hurdle to overcome. The clock ticked down the minutes to the game as lightning forced another delay to a season many thought would never arrive.
But it was Friday night and there was football to be played, and Barberton was going to make it happen.
It wasn’t easy.
Lightning forced a delay of 46 minutes for the opening kickoff and another downpour started a few minutes later. Later, in the third quarter, the rest of the game was delayed — this time until Saturday afternoon.
All the familiar trappings of Northeast Ohio high school football were assembled — the concession stand with the smell of hot dogs, the marching band and cheerleaders, the two teams stretched along opposite sidelines, and the proud parents cheering on their sons as an announcer’s voice blared throughout the stadium.
Superintendent Jeffrey Ramnytz stood at the top of the stands watching with satisfaction. The game was important to the players and a community striving for a sense of normalcy, he said. Next week, the district will take another cautious step in that direction with the start of in-school classes.
Aaron Cox, father of offensive lineman Tyler Cox, a junior, said coaches did everything possible to protect the players as they prepared for the season. His son has been playing since middle school and wasn’t going to let a season slip by without a fight.
“They’ve played really well together since the seventh grade,” Cox said. “… They have to have an outlet to do something.”
Tyler’s mother, Jen Cox, agreed.
“The kids need to get out,” she said before the game. “You can’t keep them cooped up in the house forever.”
Brandy and Brian Jones’ son Wesley also plays on the offensive line. But football is more than just a game, Brian Jones said.
“It means everything to him this season,” he said. “It’s the camaraderie, it’s being part of a group. It’s important to the community.”
Michael Lee’s son Chanden plays quarterback for the Magics. In the days before social distancing, the stands would be filled with football enthusiasts. But only two relatives for each player were allowed to attend, another coronavirus concession.
Lee said the players would love to see the stands packed with supporters. But having the parents attend and watch would have to suffice for now.
“As long as we have a season and the kids can play and they can see us,” he said.
Kristin Archer was there to watch the game and support her granddaughter, eighth-grader Mikyla McDermott, who plays the bass saxophone in the high school marching band.
Archer, who works in the health care industry, said that the band was taking extensive precautions as they practiced this summer. She said that school-age children require interaction with their peers.
“Kids need that contact,” she said. “They need the socialization.”
Even Bulldog parents agreed that Friday’s game was a good thing for players and their families.
Joe Lally drove to Barberton to watch his son Joey, a Stow cornerback, play against the dreaded Magics. He said he feels bad for the children, who have been penned up by COVID-19 and the sometimes chaotic response to it.
“I just hope they can get this thing [going],” he said.
Shonda McCarroll and Corey Gibson braved the elements to cheer on their son, Corey, who plays defensive end for Barberton.
“They’ve been putting in so much hard work over the summer,” McCarroll said.
Gibson said the start of the season was a big moment for him, his son, and for the community.
“I’m very excited football is back,” he said. “I get to see my son play.”
Alan Ashworth can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @newsalanbeaconj.