MOUNT VERNON — Schools in the Mid-Buckeye Conference competed in a little-known contest this past football season, and the top team won the use of a John Deere Gator Utility Vehicle for the entire 2009 football season. The contest, sponsored by Shearer Equipment, wasn’t based on how many points scored or the least amount of points allowed, however. In an effort to encourage better sportsmanship, it was based on the fewest penalty yards for the season.
“We just started this year; Dave Donohue from Shearer’s contacted me with the idea and asked about the possibility,” said MBC commissioner Ron Wintermute. “It sounded like a neat idea for the schools so we went ahead and put it into motion.
“Originally we talked about who scored the most points, but we decided that wasn’t the best idea. Then we came up with the fewest penalty yards.”
In a somewhat surprising finish, the Danville Blue Devils had the fewest penalty yards (242) in 2008, and won use of the Gator for next year. Loudonville came in second (281), Fredericktown finished third (299) and East Knox was fourth (306). Utica came in fifth (342), Northridge was sixth (364), Centerburg finished seventh (396) and MBC champion Johnstown came in eighth (452).
“This was a big goal of ours, even before the contest,” said Danville head football coach Charlie Duncan. “We set out to eliminate penalties because penalties only hurt you. It is never a good thing. We really made it a goal of ours.”
The 242 yards was quite a turnaround for the Blue Devils, who had 679 penalty yards in nine reported games in 2007. That included 131 yards against Newark Catholic in the Division VI Regional Semifinal.
“I think this is a huge statement,” Duncan said. “We’ve had some issues in the past. In the 2007 season, we went out against Newark Catholic and played with a state-championship caliber team. We felt like we battled right with them skill-wise and did the things we needed to do, but then we started to have some mental mistakes — offsides, late hits — that really took us out of the game. That wasn’t characteristic of a typical Danville football team, and we wanted to fix that image.
“It is hard to really pinpoint it, but there were some times in the past where we just weren’t real focused,” said Duncan of the turnaround. “We just tried to not lose our head and get unsportsmanlike penalties. We tried to focus on the play when we broke the huddle and really focus on what we were doing. That helped eliminate those mental mistakes.”
At the start of the 2008 season, the Blue Devils didn’t look like a team that could contend in this type of contest. All that changed, however, right before conference play began.
“Coming out of Week 1, we had 12 penalties. Then in Week 2, we had 10 and we lost in overtime,” Duncan said. “I think a lot of that had to do with those penalties. At that point, we really broke down film with the kids and told them these are the reasons that affected the outcome of the game. We set a goal to eliminate the penalties, and have an opponent beat us. We didn’t want to beat ourselves.
“We took a step back and really looked at the little things we were doing. Then we focused on them in practice. We started to point out more of the penalties in practice and started to do some more drills to eliminate the penalties in practice. That really started to show each game. We were more aware of the penalties we were doing.”
Duncan and his team can take a lot of pride in this accomplishment. It is not easy to improve in such a dramatic fashion.
With the contest proving to be a big hit, Wintermute would like to see the conference build of its momentum.
“This was something we wanted to try, and it was a success,” said Wintermute. “It would be kind of nice to see this program expand. ... It is something we are going to take a look at.”