It used to be that fall Friday nights in eastern Pike County were just like any other night. While other towns in southern Ohio gathered under the lights to watch their friends and family take the field, the sleepy town of Beaver stayed in and hunkered down until basketball season.
It was always said that the Beaver community didn’t care about football, that there simply weren’t enough kids or funds to get a program off the ground.
That all changed when Scott Tomlinson approached the Eastern School Board a few years ago.
“I said give me two years. You give me two years, and I won’t ask for one penny. Just give me that game field and let me use the facilities for practice,” he said.
“I don’t think they really believed it.”
It may have taken almost four full years of hard work and dedication, but what was once thought impossible is now finally happening — Eastern Pike High School will field a varsity football team in the upcoming season.
With nothing but an empty field to work with, the Eagles had to get creative to get its football team off the ground in 2012. The first step was to find the bare essentials for a playing field — goal posts, yard markers and chains.
The Eagles cleared the biggest obstacle when they found a free set of goal posts thanks to the 2012 renovation of Wheelersburg’s Ed Miller Stadium. With the blessing of the Wheelersburg, Eastern officials made the trip south, cut down the old field goals from the old stadium, drove them back to Eastern and installed them inside of the pre-existing track.
“I hope a little bit of that Wheelersburg prestige rubs off on to my field,” Tomlinson said.
The rest of the equipment needed to field a team was all provided through cfundraising. A generous donation from SOMC provided the team with helmets, a community members turned out in droves to fundraising events in order to raise funds for the rest of the equipment.
With the field ready to go and the players suited up, the only thing left to do was to go out and play. Not many expected Eastern to be competitive right away, but to Tomlinson, quick success was vital to the development to the program.
“(The Eastern principal and superintendent told me) they would be happy if we won two or three games,” Tomlinson said. “I said if I win two or three games, I’m out the door.”
Fielding only a junior high team in their first season, Eastern finished with six wins while playing a competitive eight-game schedule. Tomlinson — who played under renowned college coach Rich Rodriguez when he played offensive line at Glenville State in the mid-90’s — tore up opponents with a quick-hitting spread offense and a solid run-stopping defense.
More importantly, the Eagles saw participation rates rise as the season went on. After starting with just 17 players, Eastern had 26 in uniform by the end of the season.
In 2013 and 2014, the Eagles began fielding a junior varsity team in addition to their junior high team. Over two seasons, they lost just two games and notched wins over Minford’s, West’s and Waverly’s JV squads. Last season, they traveled to Hannan, W. Va. and notched their first-ever varsity win.
“Winning was the key,” Tomlinson said. “If we would have come out here and lost, it wouldn’t have happened. I was able to win, then the kids wanted to come out and play, and the community wanted to come out.”
Inspired by the Eagles’ winning ways, the school board took over funding the team in 2014 with the construction of a scoreboard, bleachers and a concession stand. This season, the community came together to help install permanent lights to the field. Eastern will be holding both of their scrimmages and a number of practices at night in order to adjust to the lighting.
In addition, Eastern will be adding a press box above the home-field bleachers. It should be installed in the coming weeks and be ready for the opening game of the season.
This season, the Eagles’ first-ever varsity team lists 37 players on its roster, and hopes to contend for an SOC I title and a playoff spot in Division VII, Region 25.
“We can’t stop now. We still have to come out, be competitive and win ball games,” Tomlinson said. “It’s expected here. You won’t be here long if you’re not winning.”
Reach Alex Hider at 740-353-3101 ext. 1931 or on Twitter @PDTSportsWriter