STAUNTON — The afternoon sun was hot, but the 21 players and several coaches were happy simply to be on the football field Tuesday at the Staunton Moose Lodge field across the road from the old Beverley Manor Elementary School just west of Staunton. After all, they were among the few football players in the area who could look forward to a fall season.
With the public schools pushing their football seasons into the spring, the ACTS (Advancing Christ Through Sports) Eagles are among the only gridiron game in town. The only other local prep football action this fall will be Fishburne Military School in Waynesboro. In fact, the two will meet on the Waynesboro field Sept. 4.
“I am very pleased with the kids. They’ve done an extensive amount of work in the off-season,” head coach Bill Shirley said on the first official day of practice.
The Eagles, now in their second season, are comprised of athletes from area private schools as well as home-school students. Of the 22 players (one athlete was absent on Tuesday), at least one, from Greene County, had to travel more than an hour to make the opening practice. The students come from a wide variety of places including six from Rockingham and four from Rockbridge. Most of the others hail from the Augusta County area.
In order to play in this pandemic environment, a number of regulations were put into place. Players have their temperatures taken before every practice and are asked screening questions before stepping on the field. Hand sanitizer is used frequently and the equipment is sanitized often. In addition, every athlete has his own personal water bottle.
Seniors Thomas Ottinger and Derrick Weeks said that they were just happy to be playing in their final seasons and did not mind the extra precautions in order to stay safe. Both explained that they are limiting their exposure to others outside of their family circles.
“This is my last season so I am excited to play one more year,” Ottinger said, who plays running back and linebacker. A home-schooler who hails from Singer’s Glen in Rockingham County.
Weeks, from Grace Christian School, also plays both sides including left tackle.
“I am happy to be playing and am looking forward to the season,” Weeks said.
Last year’s Eagles went 3-4, but finished the season with momentum after winning three of their last four games.
“Our team is looking pretty good. We have a solid base,” Ottinger said of this year’s veteran packed team.
“Everybody loves playing and it is a solid group,” Weeks said.
Both seniors have enjoyed working with Shirley, a veteran coach in the area. Weeks described Shirley as caring, but disciplined.
“He is super knowledgeable,” Ottinger said. “I love how he fought for us to have a season.”
The Eagles, who are still looking for a home field in the area, will open their season Aug. 22 against a private school from North Carolina. Two Saturdays later, they will travel to Fishburne.
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