PORTSMOUTH — If you thought competing in any ordinary all-star game — especially as a high school senior — didn’t matter, then think again.
And, definitely don’t tell that to Talyn Parker, Makya Matthews or Payton Shoemaker.
That’s because Saturday was supposed to be a special day for all three, as Portsmouth’s Parker, Wheelersburg’s Matthews and Waverly’s Shoemaker were all scheduled to play in the annual Ohio High School Football Coaches Association North-South Classic —along with Ironton defensive lineman and third-team Division V all-Ohioan Junior Jones.
The Division IV-V-VI-VII matchup was set to kick off at noon inside Paul Brown Tiger Stadium in Massillon.
But unfortunately — on March 12 — along with a slew of other statewide sporting events getting cancelled, so too did the 2020 North-South games.
The North-South Football Classic is the longest-running high school football all-star contest in the entire country, and the decision to cancel was made in response to the threat of the novel coronavirus throughout not only Ohio, but all of the United States.
Tom Pavlansky — the president of the OHSFCA — released a statement that night on the association’s website:
“The Ohio High School Football Coaches Association’s main priority is the health and safety of our student-athletes, coaches, event staff, fans and media. With this in mind, the OHSFCA has made the decision to cancel the North-South Classic scheduled for April 25, 2020 in Massillon at Paul Brown Tiger Stadium. We appreciate the support of BSN, the city of Massillon, VisitCanton, the Cheerleading Coaches, and the numerous volunteers who have given their time and efforts to ensure another great environment for the longest-running high school football all-star game in the country. We look forward to the OHSFCA North-South Classic returning in 2021.”
Needless to say, but all four of the aforementioned honorees were disappointed at the news —and expressed that disappointment on their individual Twitter accounts upon immediately hearing about it.
Whether those tweets were a few letters, or just one emoji, none of the quartet was happy —and obviously so.
This past week, Parker, Matthews and Shoemaker responded to questions from The Portsmouth Daily Times about the cancellation — and of course expanded upon their initial reactions from that Thursday night.
Parker (Division V) and Shoemaker (Division IV), both running backs, were first-team all-Ohioans after earning Southeast District Offensive Player of the Year in their respective divisions —while Matthews was also a first-team all-state selection as a Division V running back.
Matthews was listed on the original roster as a running back for the game, but was actually expected to play primarily slot receiver, which is what he was recruited for as he has signed to play collegiately for the University of Findlay — a member of the NCAA Division II.
Shoemaker is committed as a running back to Indiana Wesleyan University —an NAIA member.
Parker, owner of Portsmouth High School’s all-time career rushing record in which he overtook his legendary father JoJo, is actually a two-time Southeast District Offensive Player of the Year (2018 and 2019) — and a four-time all-Ohioan (Special Mention in 2016 and 2017).
As the all-district selections are based on the 10-game regular season, Parker carried 151 times as a senior, rushing for 1,473 yards with 25 touchdowns.
He finished his career with over 6,400 yards and 89 trips to paydirt.
Parker said he will miss most not getting to play one last high school game.
“The North-South game getting canceled was a big disappointment to me and I was looking up to that game. Mostly because I was getting another opportunity to suit up one more time and play the sport I love before I totally ended my high school career,” he said. “I wasn’t really set to accomplish anything too much. Just to have fun and create a bond with guys I’ve never played with before. It would’ve been really interesting to see the way they play the game the way they do. I was mostly looking at the game as an opportunity to make myself better and being able to learn new things playing against some of the best guys in Ohio. It really sucks because that’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing and I don’t get that back.”
Portsmouth head coach Bruce Kalb was eager to see Parker play alongside some of the state’s best.
“I was really looking forward to seeing Talyn play with some of the best players in the area and across the state. I knew he would go up there and excel like he has pretty much every time he steps on a football field,” he said. “It breaks my heart to see him and the other chosen players denied the opportunity to go out there and represent their high school and showcase their talents one last time before going on to the next level.”
One of those playing at the next level is Matthews, who made all-Ohio his final three seasons, including as Special Mention as a sophomore — on Wheelersburg’s 2017 Division V state championship squad.
That season, Matthews was a first-team all-Southeast District defensive back — and could have made all-Ohio all three years as an offensive all-purpose player.
For the third football season in a row, the all-Southeast District teams were selected under the OPSWA (Ohio Prep Sports Writers Association) umbrella — as the Associated Press is no longer affiliated with choosing all-district or even all-Ohio teams.
Still, ALL first-team honorees are automatic — AT LEAST — Special Mention all-Ohio, as the players of the year in each of Ohio’s seven districts are automatically first-team all-state.
He caught 105 passes for 1,791 yards and 20 touchdowns, and averaged exactly 17 yards per reception, while also carrying the football 213 times for 1,436 yards — and scoring 21 rushing touchdowns while averaging 6.7 yards per carry.
He also developed a knack for special special teams returns, amassing 611 yards on 24 kickoffs for an average of 25-and-a-half yards, while taking back three punts to the house —part of 55 returns for 804 yards and 14.7 yards per return.
Including his interception returns, and his four pass completions for 96 yards and one TD, Matthews was responsible for 47 touchdowns in his decorated Wheelersburg career.
He finished with 4,738 all-purpose yards, which —with his interception return yardage —is only 52 yards shy of 5,000.
“My immediate reaction was pure disappointment. I was extremely excited to play in that game and I knew it would be an amazing experience. I am already signed with UF, so I wasn’t really looking to impress anyone but myself. I was excited to see how I compare to some of top players in the state,” said Matthews. “I would have been playing slot receiver against a man-coverage defense which would’ve been a lot of fun. I was blessed to have earned that opportunity, but I believe everything happens for a reason. I wish all my teammates the best of luck in the rest of their careers as well as the rest of the players in the 2020 North-South game.”
Matthews was the 13th all-time Pirate player selected for the North-South Classic, as all but three have been honored in the last decade.
The first three were a pair of Pirates from 1989 (Matt Williams and Rich Gill) and one from 2000 (Jason Schmidt).
Wheelersburg head coach Rob Woodward was an assistant on the South squad in 2016, in which Cain Madden of Minford was named the South’s Most Valuable Player — as the game was divided into two with the largest three divisions (I, II and III) and the four smallest divisions (IV, V, VI and VII) four years before that.
”It’s an extreme honor to be selected for the North-South game, and Makya would have been another great one from Wheelersburg to play in it. We would have enjoyed watching him participate. It’s an elite group of players, and Makya competes at a high level and loves competition. He was wanting to go against some of the best in the state. It would have been a great opportunity for him to display all what he can do,” said Woodward. “The Coaches’ Association does a great job putting that game on every year, and it’s very-well run and organized. It definitely gives the game the respect it deserves, the players and staffs are treated right, and it’s played at a high level.”
Unfortunately, it didn’t happen this year, but as Shoemaker said, as more information and facts about the coronavirus came to fruition, the event had to be canceled.
While at Waverly, he became one of the most prolific Tigers ever — and set single-season school records in rushing yards (2,378) and touchdowns (34) as a senior.
For his Tiger career, Shoemaker amounted 3,427 rushing yards including 4,821 all-purpose yards, toted 48 touchdowns and made 16 interceptions as a defensive back.
“At first, my reaction was a little shocked because at the time, I don’t think we knew how big COVID-19 was going to be. But as it progressed, I realized that although it is a letdown, that is what needed to happen,” he said. “I just really wanted to test my abilities. In high school, you play guys with great talent and that are going to the next level throughout the season. But you don’t face a whole team with guys moving on to keep playing football. So to me, I was excited to meet them as people, but also to see how well I could compete with them in practice and games. To ultimately try to get better.”
Indeed, selection to the prestigious North-South game meant much to Parker, Matthews and Shoemaker —and actually playing in it would have meant even more.
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @BoggsSports © 2020 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved