By DOUG DONNELLY
Whiteford’s varsity football team will help usher in a new era of small-town football in 2018.
The Bobcats will play Stryker, Ohio, on Friday, Aug. 31, 2018. The Panthers will be in their first season of varsity football since 1931.
Stryker will be the 14th new opponent the Bobcats have faced since Jason Mensing became the head coach at Whiteford in 2012. Four of those first-time opponents came during the 2017 playoffs when the Bobcats won the Division 8 state championship.
Whiteford opens the season at home vs. Blissfield on Friday, Aug. 24. Stryker will open its 2018 season the same night when it hosts Holgate High School. The game against Whiteford will be in Week 2. The site is still being determined, but Mensing said the schools have an agreement to play in both 2018 and 2019.
Panther head football coach Justin Sonnenberg said Stryker is looking forward to restoring football to the community.
“There is something special about small town football,” Sonnenberg said. “We are very thankful that our players and our proud community of Stryker will get to experience it.
While the school disbanded football in the 1930s when the numbers began dropping, it has maintained other sports. Supt. Nate Johnson and other school officials revived the sport a couple of years ago.
“The discussion started a little over five years ago,” Johnson said. “The board made the announcement to the public at a high school boys basketball game in January 2016 that football was returning to Stryker in the fall of 2016 after 85 years.”
The Panthers have been a junior high and junior varsity team the past two years. The fall of 2018 will be its first varsity season.
Johnson said the re-birth of the football program has had a positive effect on the Stryker students in both academics and attitudes. As a high school, Stryker is a member of the Buckeye Border Conference, which does not play a football schedule. The Panthers, however, are joining the Toledo Area Athletic Conference (TAAC) for football only in 2018.
“There have also been other, unexpected positives for our students, community and school district through the implementation of the sport,” he said.
Sonnenberg said the team is working hard at the challenge of having a new program.
“We are well-aware of the difficult challenge ahead of us,” Sonnenburg said. “This will be our first varsity season, so we have no returning letterman. Luckily, we have a group of young men who have worked very hard to become varsity football players. They have overcome some very challenging growing pains in the process. Their heart and perseverance has given them the opportunity to play under the lights on Friday nights. And of course, none of this would be possible with the help of the community. The support we have seen during this process has been remarkable.”
Stryker is located in Williams County, Ohio, south of the Ohio Turnpike between Archbold and Bryan.
Stryker replaces Detroit Community on the Whiteford schedule. Community played at Whiteford twice with the Bobcats coming out on top both times.