WHEELING, W.Va. — The cliché says the world is much smaller today than it once was.
That’s proven to be true each summer in mid-July when the Ohio and West Virginia stars show up at camp to begin preparations for the annual Rudy Mumley Ohio Valley Athletic Conference All-Star Football Game.
There was a time when players would show up to camp and basically only know the players they might have read about or seen highlights on during the season. With the rise of travel sports and obviously social media, the players showed up at Wheeling University on Sunday and knew virtually everyone on their respective teams.
For that, head coaches Mike McKenzie of Ohio and John Kelley of West Virginia are grateful as it allowed the chemistry of their respective teams to form almost immediately.
“The camaraderie is growing really fast,” McKenzie, who is the head coach of Beaver Local, said. “You can see the kids are already really having fun and having fun together.”
The OVAC All-Star Football game is Saturday at 7 p.m. at Wheeling Island Stadium.
McKenzie, who never coached the OVAC All-Star Game before this season, has appeared in other All-Star Games in the Tri-State area and has seen chemistry be an issue on teams.
“I’ve been coaching in games where we’ve had a few guys who thought they were better than everyone else and really didn’t talk to anyone else,” McKenzie admitted. “We don’t have any of those guys here. All the guys mix and it’s a fun and talented group.
On the other hand, Kelley — a 1968 graduate of Oak Glen High School entering his 36th season at University High School — is a big fan of the OVAC game and has pointed that out to his players as well.
“There are no rivalries on this team. These kids have an Ohio-paced mentality, and as a coach, I love to see that,” Kelley said. “We have a great combination of kids from single A football to triple A football and they are all good football players.”
And through four practices, they more than bought into it.
“The two-hour workouts go by like a snap of the fingers, it’s so pleasant.” Kelley said. “These children eat it. They volunteer to help when they can.
Neither team let rain on Sunday or Monday morning slow them down as they began their preparations.
“Our guys wanted to go out in the rain. They said they were tough. McKenzie said.
Not only did they show their toughness, but the Ohio team also put their time on the court to good use.
With already a short week to do everything and many events surrounding the OVAC game kick off like Monday night with George Strager’s evening with the stars at White Palace inside Wheeling Park, making the most of the time on the pitch of practice is a necessity.
“We wanted to install most of our elements (Sunday and Monday) so now as the week progresses we work more as a team and start building on things,” McKenzie said.
West Virginia also hit the practice ground three times on Monday, and Kelley was truly impressed with how the players got back to the varsity high school system.
“As you get more and more stuff (installed) you get really excited because you can see this kid can really play or we can use this kid here or there,” Kelley said. “We’re a bit in tatters from having to go here and there. As coaches, we just want to practice and prepare to play, but these events are important to the legacy of this game because kids can experience anything.