LIMA — The start of the football season is always special, and it takes on an added sense of excitement this year when Lima Central Catholic and Lima Senior clash Thursday for the first time in what is being called the “Crosstown Gridiron Classic.”
Even though the rivalry between the schools has been ongoing for years, the two have never met on the gridiron until this year, and it possible thanks to the efforts of the school administrations that view this event as more than just another game.
The idea for the event came back in January when Lima Senior found itself with an opening in its schedule and so Lima Senior Athletic Director John Zell went to the Ohio High School Athletic Association website in search of an opponent.
Little did he know he would find it in his own backyard. It just so happened that LCC was also looking for an opponent in week one.
“I shot Frank Kill (the then LCC athletic director) a quick text and said what are your thoughts about playing week one,” Zell said. “It is a one-year deal. We will split everything after we cover all our expenses.”
Kill went back to LCC football head coach Scott Palte and the Thunderbird administration and a month later he was back in touch with Zell to finalize the details.
“From LCC’s standpoint we saw it as a lot of positives,” LCC athletic director John Schnieders said. “We share a stadium. Our communities are very close and intertwined, and we saw this immediately as an opportunity for a great community event and to bring our communities together and have our players play in the stadium against their crosstown counterparts.”
Because LCC plays as an independent, the Thunderbirds throughout the year travel long distances to play opponents and this was the chance to not have to travel and treat their fans to a close game.
“Instead of driving two hours and having 100 people watch your game, you can play a local rivalry game with a couple of thousand people in the stands and create a lot of buzz and excitement and celebrate our community because both schools are proud to represent Lima when we go outside of Lima,” Schnieders said.
Zell said this game is a natural rivalry and one that has everyone excited.
“I’ve been coaching in Lima City Schools since 2000 and every time I coached whether it was volleyball, baseball or basketball we always looked forward to playing LCC. Always,” Zell said. “My volleyball girls wanted to play LCC. They didn’t care about anything else. We always got pumped.
“Basketball. The same thing. It is a big rivalry game. It is always talked about in our community so the opportunity to play LCC in football for the first time presented itself, and we went with it.”
With the game on the schedule the two Lima school administrations began developing plans on making the day even more special.
Lima Superintendent Jill Ackerman and LCC Principal and CEO Stephanie Williams came up with an American Cancer Society walk prior to the game as well as raising funds for the group by selling commemorative T-shirts prior to and during the game.
The theme for the game is “white out cancer.”
A pre-game tailgate party will be held at Chiles-Laman Funeral and Cremation Services (across from the Spartan Stadium) free of charge. Hot dogs, chips and water and pop will be provided. A freewill collection will be taken for those who wish to donate to benefit The American Cancer Society. The Lima Senior Band, the LCC Band and the High Octane Drum Line have been invited to perform.
In addition to the pre-game walk, there is a kick for cash event and the two bands will be performing together.
To add to the ambiance, the U.S. Army is providing a tunnel for the teams to run out on the field and the color guard.
“We are using it to help build the community, and I think we have a responsibility to do that at both schools,” Schneiders said.
Zell echoed those sentiments of his LCC counterpart.
“Everyone I have talked to is excited,” Zell said. “They are excited about seeing a big school versus a small school and neighbors playing each other, and it something that has never been.”
A big crowd is expected to come out and cheer for their respective squads and the fact that it is on a Thursday means football fans and area high school teams not playing will have to chance to attend the game to add to the crowd.
Not lost on the two administrations is the fact that they will generate funds for their schools.
“It’s the fiscal responsibility thing as school administrators,” Schneiders said. “We are all under tight budgets and this is an opportunity we could not pass up. There were few or any reservations on LCC’s part.”
Schneiders added that the perception might have been that these two schools couldn’t partner to put on this event but said from the top down there was nothing but support.
“I think from Jill and Stephanie and the athletic departments that there is a lot of respect and communication and cooperation between the two schools,” Schneiders said. “That is what the community should expect from us.”
Even though both schools expect this to be a one-off deal, the prospect of a sequel is never ruled out. Zell also adds that any other Lima schools wanting to play the Spartans that the door is always open for discussion.