Football has become a staple among communities across the United States, which rings especially true within the city limits of Maryville.
Weekends during the fall are a unique time in the small town of 11,687 people. On a typical Friday night, fans arrive in flocks to the ’Hound Pound to watch the MEC powerhouse Spoofhounds. On Saturday, traditionally, fans fill Bearcat Stadium to watch their six-time national champion Bearcats.
Recently, the world has been blindsided by a foe that has taken sports away from a country that seems to be highly dependent on them. We have come to know this foe as COVID-19. Recently, this virus postponed the 2020-21 Northwest football season, but one challenger stood its ground.
The Spoofhounds will continue their 2020 football season as planned, with their first game against Blair Oaks Aug. 28 in Warrensburg, Missouri.
The slogan, tradition never graduates, is once again being used by the Spoofhounds to keep high spirits during a time of uncertainty. This slogan encapsulates the program’s ability to consistently win while keeping a tough demeanor for the program.
“We decided, as a team, that we’re not going to let COVID affect that culture, and we’re not going to be beaten by it,” coach Matt Webb said. “What we’re going to do is beat whatever comes at us tomorrow and the next day.”
The challenges that come along with playing during a pandemic are not easy to tackle, and sometimes they can be persistent. A few of these challenges come from the Nodaway County Health Department and the Maryville R-II School District.
Players must go through a daily screening, which involves a temperature check and a question and answer session. These screenings happen during the school day and before practices and games.
The players must also wear neck gaiters during practice, as it’s required by the city ordinance. A neck gaiter is a closed tube of fabric, which is slipped on and off over the head. It can be pulled up over the mouth and nose.
Lastly, players and coaches must be socially distanced on the sidelines. Each player will have their own water bottle and there will be no sharing of towels.
These rules can be changed at any point during the season, which could cause trouble among some teams. However, the Spoofhounds are following another slogan, “ITWIT,” which stands for, “It takes what it takes.”
“If they tell us to wear a mask on the practice field, then that’s what we’re going to do,” Webb said. “If they tell us our schedule changes, then that’s what we're going to do. It takes whatever it takes.”
On Aug. 13, the Missouri State High School Activities Association gave schools the option to participate in an alternate fall season, which would begin May 14 and conclude by July 10.
While Maryville has opted out of this option, Webb knows the possibility of having to cut the season short and moving to the spring, or any other rule changes by the state, are beyond his control.
“I have a responsibility to my administration at the local level, and to the state,” Webb said. “Those decisions that the state is making are above my head, and while I have opinions on them, I know my role, and I’ll be 100% supportive of them and make sure the players follow along with them.”
The constant rule changes, surrounding states and school’s decisions and the consistent roll of new information about COVID-19 have toppled any sort of structure the Spoofhounds had in prior seasons.
“The biggest challenge is just the change. Our kids are used to structure,” Webb said. “It’s been a lot of outdoor workouts. The use of the neck gaiter is a change. I think the new changes have been a challenge, but we’re fighting every day to overcome those.”
The idea of playing sports, at any level, has been a hot topic debate among people the past couple of months. There have been parents of players from the Big Ten Conference voice their concern of postponing the season, while other players across the sporting world have voluntarily opted out of a season to keep themselves and families safe.
However, Webb believes having a high school football season is crucial across the board.
“In a lot of the life lessons I’ve learned, I experienced it on the athletic field,” Webb said. “Sports and football allows you to experience how you deal with success, how to deal with failure, the overcomes, the obstacles, the ability to work hard for something and achieve goals.”
The players have taken a positive stance on the decision to continue with a season during the pandemic. Most of them saw their senior friends not being able to play the sport they love during the spring and don’t want to lose the privilege of playing the game they love.
“Our players don’t know any other than playing football,” Webb said. “Our varsity guys and seniors only know what they do in the fall, and around here, it’s culture and Spoofhound football. That’s all they know to do, and that’s what they want to do.”
Although fall sports are lost on the grounds of Northwest’s campus, the community of Maryville will still have a team to rally behind. The families and fans won’t have to wait until next season to have a team to root for and be proud of, as the Spoofhounds are in the perfect place to capture the heart of the community.
“The players have been nonstop training since the last season, and it would be inconsiderate to suddenly stop the season,” Tyrone Thornton said, a fan of the Spoofhounds. “Sports are also a safe getaway for these kids. These sports are keeping kids out of trouble, and for some, it’s keeping their grades up.”
The importance of football can be seen around the community, and Webb believes it goes beyond the sport. He sees that high school football is essential to the community because people support the younger generation
“This community buys into football, but what’s unique is that they are really committed to young people and watching people achieve,” Webb said. “With anything involving young people, the community has always been supportive of watching them do things the right way.”
Despite the familiarity of Spoofhound football in the fall, players and their families will have to decide if the sport is worth the chance of contracting COVID-19. Webb believes this all comes down to someone’s ability to choose to play or attend such activities.
“One of the things we talk about as a team is that, ultimately, a lot of this goes back to your personal decision,” Webb said. “You have to be smart with who you hang out with in small groups and things like that. I feel 100% safe, and I think our players do too.”
The sport of football goes beyond scoring touchdowns and making tackles. Coaching is a job that people need to continue to feed families. Players need sports to stay active, out of trouble and have something to strive towards.
“Football is what I do; that’s my career,” Webb said. “It’s not X’s and O’s. It’s not wins and losses. We have to get out there and develop a team and young men.”
The Spoofhounds will take the field for the beginning of a new chapter. While there’s nothing set in stone about this season, there’s excitement radiating throughout the team.
“We’re extremely excited to go out and do what we love to do,” Webb said. “We’re excited to start a new season and play for a community that loves us.”