The Wabash Valley Football Coaches Association's North versus South All-Star game will take place Saturday at Indiana State's Memorial Stadium, and the game will definitely have a Putnam County feel to it. There will be 10 local athletes competing in the game and South Putnam head coach Troy Burgess will coach the South squad.
The game itself was the brainchild of North Putnam head coach and WVFCA president Greg Barrett. He came up with the idea while working at Rose-Hulman and ran with it.
Soon, he enlisted Jason Penske, the WTWO sports director, to get an idea of the teams that would make up the Wabash Valley. The association has grown to 30 teams and is still looking to expand. But as the idea began to take shape, life threw Barrett a speed bump.
"I sent a letter out to these guys, set up a meeting and we had 20-some at the meeting, I kind of gave them my idea," Barrett said. "But what happened was my wife got transferred for her job to Iowa, so I kind of pushed it all to the side. When we moved back here in 2003, I was coaching at Terre Haute North with my brother that was the No. 1 thing I wanted to get going was this association."
He said at the first meeting he laid down some ideas, with the All-Star game being the crown jewel. The other coaches weren't too sure the idea would take hold, though.
"A lot of coaches just kind of rolled their eyes at me and thought, 'That's a good idea, that's never going to happen'. I said, 'Well, it's going to happen. We get good people around it and we're going to make it happen," Barrett commented.
Players in this year's game from Putnam County include from South Putnam Adam Masters, Drew Cash, Derek Dean, Matt Huck, Chris Hurst and Wes Bratcher; from Greencastle Jordan Hickam and Jesse Ford; from Cloverdale Jimmy Gibson and Dillin Gray and from North Putnam Kyle Adams, Darr Boruff, Shawn Diebold, Brock Jones and Tyler Osborn.
It's an honor that comes for those individuals a coach does battle with week in and week out, and Burgess is thankful to get the opportunity.
"Any time your peers or fellow coaches select you to do something it's a great honor. I really appreciate the fact they did that. When it comes from guys you work with and compete against every Friday night, that's pretty special and means a lot," he said.
Their coaches selected the players who have been chosen to compete, with each team boasting a roster of 44 to 48 players. All-Star game director Tom Jones indicated that each of the 27 schools in the association get at least two representatives in the game.
This year, the game welcomes first-time schools Owen Valley, North Knox and Mattoon.
Helping Burgess anchor the South sideline will be two of his assistants, Nathan Aker and Ryan Gilman, Hall of Fame coach Mark Wildman and Cloverdale head coach Kyle Winkler. This is a fact that only makes participating in this game even more sweet.
"You know, it's great," Burgess said. "I'm going to have coach (Nathan) Aker is going to be there, I've got coach (Mark) Wildman is also on the staff, so that's going to be a load of fun being able to work with Mark. I spent enough years competing against him, so that's going to be fun having him.
"Coach (Ryan) Gilman is actually on the staff now. So, to have three guys, two guys on my staff, and competing against coach (Kyle) Winkler and having him there and having coach Potts from Owen Valley. He was on my staff when I was the head coach at Owen Valley," he continued. "There's a lot of familiarity there between all the guys that are helping me out.
"Again, that's what makes this thing fun. Having the opportunity to work with Dwayne again, have an opportunity to work with Kyle instead of being on the opposite sideline from him. So, that's going to be a lot of fun having those guys be a part of this," Burgess added.
Having 10 local athletes at his disposal is something Burgess feels very fortunate to have. He's thankful for the players for CHS and GHS, but it's the six players with an Eagle on their helmet that's going to make the game something extra special for Burgess.
"As far as having the kids from Cloverdale and Greencastle, it's going to be nice to have them on my side instead of having to prepare against them. I'll still have to prepare for those dang North Putnam guys," he said with a laugh. "No, it's going to be fun.
"Probably the thing that makes this the most special for me is the fact get those six seniors of mine one more time," Burgess continued. "I made no secret about it, this senior group was very special. It was kind of my first group, they were freshmen when I came to South, so this was my first group of kids that I had, so they've been very special to me for four years. So to get the opportunity to get to coach with those guys one more time, man, that's is really what probably makes this the most special. I get to spend another week with those guys and I'm really looking forward to that."
Just the fact the game features some of the best local talent around would be enough, but the game awards scholarships for the athletes and that's something that makes this experience a unique one. Both Burgess and Jones are proud of what the WVCA has achieved.
"Well, I think anytime you can do something like this, where you can award scholarships and those types of things, I think that's a great benefit to the kids," Burgess said. "That's what this is all about and what the Wabash Valley is all about. Trying to raise money and do some things for the student athletes.
"It's a great organization and Greg Barrett is the president and Greg does a great job with this thing. And Tom Jones, getting the All-Star game together and then the work of all the other head coaches that are involved in the Wabash Valley," he added.
Jones also pointed out it helps the athletes that still need financial assistance as they out it helps the athletes that still need financial assistance as they pursue their football careers at the collegiate level.
"I think a lot of them it helps because typically, we'll have a handful of kids from this game that are going to go someplace on a full-ride or something," Jones said. "But most of these kids, a lot of them, it's going to be the last game they play, and even the ones that are going somewhere, they're going to be on a partial scholarship or something like that. We just wanted to help football players out the best we could."
He noted that one scholarship is voted on by the players, one is by the coaches and one is selected based on scholastics. The scholarships are selected the night before the contest.
Burgess acknowledged this is the first year he's really been involved with the game, but said that what the organization does on a regular basis is something special.
"To be quiet honest, this is my first year really getting involved with it," he said. "I've been a member since I've been at South, but I just haven't had the chance to get involved. It's always getting caught up on everything and, man, it's a great organization. And I'll tell you what, a lot of guys put a lot of time and hard work into it to help the student athletes.
"And the coming two weeks is another example of that," he continued. "One -- it's an opportunity for these kids to play one more football game and to get to play in a college stadium and then there are some opportunities there for some scholarship money and that's a great thing. Anytime you can do something like that, it's just makes it that much more special," he said.
Unlike pro sports, where an All-Star game means a lack of defense and scoring abounds, the North/South All-Star game is quality football, with an element of suspense.
"I tell you what, it has really surprised us since the very first game the quality of football is great," Jones said. "Even though they only have a week of practice, you're talking about the kids that are the best of the best and when the coaches put something in, the kids know what they're doing. They get a lot of offense in in just one week of practice.
"It's good football. The kids come out and hit -- the game has been really entertaining," he concluded.
Barrett noted that as the game continues to grow, the atmosphere is hard to beat.
"Our first two games were held at Rose-Hulman," Barrett explained. "Our first game, we were hoping to get 800 people there to just cover our expenses. Well, we had 3,500 people there, great atmosphere -- it was hotter than heck out and it ended up being a great night. Ever since then, it's been taking off.
Basically we've had to move from Rose-Hulman because we outgrew the place, so that's why we're at Indiana State. The atmosphere is a little different, but you still get a great crowd up in there. It's just turned out really cool," he added.
The Wabash Valley North versus South game takes place Saturday at 7 p.m. at ISU's Memorial Stadium.