Harmon Field in Wapakoneta hosted more playoff football games than any other venue in the state of Ohio last month.
The stadium previously averaged two playoff games per year since 2000. This year Harmon Field hosted six of them.
Sure, that number accounts for the first round game played there involving the Wapakoneta High School Redskins, but, still, excluding that first round game, Harmon Field still tied for the most neutral site games hosted this postseason — five —tying with Welcome Stadium in Dayton and Alexander Stadium in Piqua.
Of course, executing a playoff football game from a management perspective requires dozens of people and their time.
Brad Rex, athletic director for Wapakoneta City Schools, who is essentially in charge of managing events at Harmon Field, said between 30-35 people are needed to host a football game at the venue.
Once all of the planning and preparation are in place, the game starts.
“Once the game starts, it’s just like a normal regular season game,” Rex said.
Which is true, but before the game starts, that planning and preparation are much different than for a regular season game.
In order to host playoff football games, the site’s owner has to show willingness and a manager needs to be designated to organize them, according to procedures developed by the Ohio High School Athletic Association, the governing body of prep athletics in the state.
The process of securing neutral site games starts well in advance of the playoffs, as the each site manager is required to submit a two-and-a-half page online questionnaire to the OHSAA, the owner and operator of the football playoffs.
The OHSAA pays a rental fee to each of the stadiums where neutral site games are played, since the association, of course, does not own any of the facilities which house its tournament games.
Rex said although it varies from year to year, the rental fee the OHSAA pays the school is around $2,000.
According to a OHSAA press release, in order to host playoff football games, the following is considered.
“There are many factors that go into determining playoff sites, such as quality of field surface, seating capacity, quality of stadium lighting, size of locker rooms, press box size, parking spaces available, a separate locker room for officials, and rental costs,” the release says. “After all those factors are taken into consideration, it must be confirmed that the site is available and willing to host a playoff game on the date needed. The OHSAA does not own any athletic facilities and thus must rely on sites being available.”
Schools in the top half of each of the state’s 26 regions own the right to host their first playoff game at their home site, and virtually all elect to do so.
Harmon Field, after hosting the Redskins’ first round playoff game on Nov. 1, held two games in the second round, one in the third and two in the fourth.
Currently, OHSAA playoff football games are held Friday and Saturday nights.
Rex said at least one week in advance, a site manager receives an email from the OHSAA saying the stadium he or she manages is a possibility to host a certain game — either Friday or Saturday and sometimes both.
“Once we get that email from the state, we start contacting people to make sure they’ll be available on any of those nights the OHSAA says might be a possibility, just to make sure prior to that we have enough workers,” Rex said. “People around here love working them, so usually it’s not an issue.
“Where it does become an issue is like this past weekend, around Thanksgiving,” he said. “Typically, that’s a lot harder to find workers. We were sure we could do Friday, but we had to get a lot of people on board for Saturday, and we were able to make it work.”
After the conclusion of each round’s games, which usually occurs at around 10:30 p.m. Saturday, the OHSAA begins identifying possible sites for the next round of games, at that point taking into consideration mainly a venue which would require a roughly equal travel time for both schools.
The Sunday morning after a round’s conclusion, the OHSAA begins contacting site managers, ones that would be good fits to host the next round of games.
By 2 p.m. Sunday, after getting approval from respective site managers, the OHSAA announces via email where all of the games for the next round will be played.
The association also calls the announced site’s managers to provide contact information for the two schools they will be hosting that weekend.
In most cases, Rex is the site manager for games at Harmon Field, while Mike Watt has also handled that responsibility in the past.
On Sunday afternoons, Rex will spend nearly three hours contacting various people to begin preparing to host a playoff game.
Rex said when Harmon Field is assigned a playoff game, he will meet with representatives from the two opponents on Tuesday to show them the locker rooms, the field itself, where coaches will be stationed in the press box. He will also give them sideline passes and their tickets report.
“We want to make sure everybody is comfortable with things going on around their game,” Rex said about the reason for Tuesday’s meeting.
On Monday the OHSAA mails to site managers a package containing tickets for each playoff game, media guides, a football for each team to use. The package also contains a list of the officials assigned to work the game.
Rex said on Tuesdays he contacts the officials and ensures they have directions to the stadium, because, often, they are traveling from far distances.
During the week leading up to the game, things such as procuring a game program, restocking the concessions and inputting information into a field’s scoreboard are all part of the behind-the-scenes tasks.
In the case of games at Harmon Field, a collection of 30-35 people assist either Rex or Watt in the management of the event.
The list of positions needed to manage a playoff game include everything from team hosts to chain crew members to program sellers.
The Wapakoneta Band Boosters is responsible for operating Harmon Field’s concessions. The Wapakoneta Athletic Boosters is responsible for parking vehicles.
Both groups keep proceeds from those respective tasks.
The rental fee the OHSAA pays Wapakoneta is split between the athletic department and a Harmon Field turf replacement fund, and some of it is used to pay workers and the officials.
Any remaining money generated from the each game is sent to the participating schools for expenses incurred (like travel), while the remainder of revenue is sent to the OHSAA, which, again, is the owner and operator of the playoffs.
“The athletic department itself doesn’t get much money at all out of hosting a tournament,” Rex said.
Rex said on game days, by noon, certain workers arrive at the stadium to set up the field, arrange the press box, clean what needs it, etc.
“If I’m tournament manager, I typically don’t go home,” Rex said. “I get there around 3:30 p.m. and tie up any loose ends.”
So by adding eight hours to his work day Friday (and Saturday if Harmon Field is hosting two games that weekend), plus a handful of hours throughout the week making other preparations, at minimum, about 12 hours are added to Rex’s work week, and often times much more.
Starting with the 2013 season, a seventh division of football was created by the OHSAA, adding dozens more postseason games in the state football playoffs.
Rex said this summer he believed this would allow for Harmon Field to host even more playoff games.
After this past weekend, he felt it proved to be the case.
“There’s a high level of football in this area, and there’s a lot of small schools in our area, so it’s a natural site,” Rex said. “The turf has been great. The seventh division probably added two games for us.”
Although he admitted the athletic department does not benefit much financially from hosting football playoff games, Rex said he and the workers enjoy being involved with them, mainly because it also provides a small financial boost each night to local businesses and because it’s a premier opportunity to showcase the school’s athletic facilities.
“It is a lot of work, but we enjoy doing it,” Rex said. “It’s a lot of fun to watch good football.
“We have a great community that supports it. People want to work at them. We think it’s good for our community to bring in all these people who support our community.
“We’re proud of our facilities, and we love having games here,” he said.