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Preparing for a football season unlike any other one

High school football in Ohio is set to begin in four days after the most difficult and convoluted preseason that followers of the sport have seen.

Despite not knowing whether or not the governor’s office would even allow games to be played, players and coaches prepared as if the season would be held.

The season itself, with the playoffs beginning in what would normally be Week 7, all teams eligible for the playoffs, and the possibility of a team playing regular-season games after being eliminated from the playoffs, promises to be a little different also — without even considering game-night protocols being taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Those of us who cover high school football in the Mahoning Valley also were in a bind as the season got closer. We had to decide whether or not to go ahead with the production of our high school football preseason preview special sections, for which we begin planning in mid-July.

It was a newspaper-wide decision. The advertising department had to determine if it could sell enough ads in the sections to make them profitable.

In the end, the massive project was given the go-ahead and a team of sports writers made contact with head coaches throughout the Valley to compile information about their specific teams. We wholeheartedly offer thanks to those coaches for their cooperation.

This was the first year in which our staff handled two special sections. Last year, in the Tribune Chronicle, we profiled 26 football teams. This year, in the Tribune and the Vindicator, we did profiles on 43 teams.

The COVID situation played havoc with things throughout July and August, as several schools shut down their football practices for a time because of positive tests.

The virus also disrupted and delayed the process of acquiring photos. In the past, our staff photographer, Mike Semple, shot the vast majority of the teams and we also asked professional photographers to submit to us photos of the teams they shot.

Because of staff layoffs due to the COVID, Mike was unavailable to take photos and in the end, also because of the COVID, a number of schools did not have group photos taken. Several schools scheduled their photo days beyond our deadline. We again asked for assistance from local professional photographers and are grateful to those who cooperated.

In the end, our 2020 preview special sections are a part of today’s Vindicator and Tribune Chronicle. The Vindicator edition includes profiles and rosters of 20 schools and the Tribune edition covers 25 schools, eight of which also are in the Vindicator.

Due to space limitations, six schools that were scheduled to appear in the Vindicator special section will have their preview stories printed in the daily newspaper this week, beginning with Salem and Sebring today. Profiles for Columbiana, Leetonia, East Palestine and Crestview will appear throughout this week.

We also, unfortunately, have a correction to report. On the Jackson-Milton page in the Vindicator special section, the Fitch coaching staff was listed instead of Jackson-Milton’s. Blue Jays coach Nathan Brode is actually assisted by Tom Ciccolelli, Mike French, Tyler Halavick and Mike Zayas.

Jackson-Milton also appears in the Tribune Chronicle section and the error was corrected for that. Though the sections are distributed with today’s papers, they actually were printed in the middle of last week.

Next Sunday, our Keepsake special sections will be published and will include rosters for all 43 football-playing schools in our coverage area and team photos.

Meanwhile, the season will begin on Thursday and it promises to be unlike any we’ve seen before.

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