In his 30-plus years as head football coach at Midway, Larry Burchett has never opened a season like this before.
Burchett found himself without a season opener a couple of months ago, which sent him on a last-minute search for an opponent. He found one – in the middle of Tennessee.
“Initially we thought there would be no way because we couldn’t afford to drive to Tennessee, but first thing you know they offered to pay our way down there,” Burchett said.
So on Aug. 18, Midway will kick off the 2017 season against Middle Tennessee Christian, a nine-hour bus ride away in Murfreesboro, Tenn. And it won’t cost the school a dime. Middle Tennessee Christian is picking up all the expenses, and with some help from a local business and a Midway alum in Murfreesboro, the Vikings will travel and eat in style.
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“The school isn’t going to pay any money at all,” Burchett said. “That’s the neat thing about the whole deal. We’re actually going that far for less money that if we would have played at home or definitely at Osceola.”
Osceola is where Midway’s season was supposed to begin, but in late June the school decided it wouldn’t have enough players for an 11-man team and decided to field an eight-man team. Midway posted the opening on the Missouri State High School Activities Association website, but found no takers nearby.
“We looked around and couldn’t find anything,” Burchett said. “We even looked into playing Blue Springs’ underclassmen.”
Middle Tennessee Christian, like Midway, also found itself out of an opener when its opponent canceled due to a lack of players. When the school first contacted Midway, athletic director Jim Riggs was skeptical about making the game work out.
“They asked, ‘Are we interested?’ and I said, “Yeah, but 612 miles between us, that’s kind of a challenge,’” Riggs said. “We were thinking maybe we could offer them some money to come our way, and no sooner were we thinking that then they were offering us some money to come their way. That was enough to make us consider it.”
What Middle Tennessee Christian offered was enough money to cover the drive, and they offered to put the team up in the school’s field house and feed them after the game and before heading home. Midway won’t have to pony up anything for food or lodging.
“It’s not school district dollars,” Riggs said. “It’s not like we robbed from other people’s budgets to send a football team to Tennessee.”
There was enough money to rent an air-conditioned bus, but not a full-fledged charter bus with restrooms and enough storage room for all the equipment. But thanks to a $1,500 donation from Stafford & Stafford Insurance of Harrisonville, the Vikings will make the trip in a charter bus. An official working a summer scrimmage at Midway heard about the trip, and he approached Stafford & Stafford about helping out.
“He wanted to know how much I needed to get a charter and I told him it would be around $1,500 more,” Burchett said. “And he said, ‘I think we can help you out with that.’”
Jeff Fellers wanted to help out, too. A 1981 Midway graduate and Murfreesboro resident, Fellers was thrilled to read on the school’s Facebook page that his alma mater would play in the town he now calls home. A one-time national barbecue competitor and caterer, Fellers will provide a barbecue meal for the team after the game.
“Their (Middle Tennessee Christian’s) parents were going to that but he got with the school and he’s going to take care of the after-game barbecue feed,” Burchett said. “He’s going to feed the coaches and staff and anybody who shows up.”
Burchett does have some concerns about the journey and the effect it will have on his team, which returns five players who started on both offense and defense on last season’s 11-2 Western Missouri Conference champion squad. The Vikings will be big up front, with second-team all-state senior Boog Chandler and 300-pounder Spencer Smith anchoring the offensive line. Josh Yahnig, a starter at cornerback last season, takes over at quarterback, and the Vikings will use several ball carriers to replace the graduated Peyton Richardson.
And Burchett expects Middle Tennessee Christian, which has an enrollment around 230 and is coming off a 7-4 season, to be a rugged opponent. Burchett compares them to a good Class 2 program like Butler, and like the Vikings they also have size up front.
“I think it’ll be a tough game, but I don’t see anything we can’t play against,” Burchett said. “I don’t know how we’ll respond to riding the bus and then playing, but I don’t think it’ll be like playing a Class 3 or 4 school and getting our (butts) kicked.”
It will be a long game day for the Vikings. They won’t leave until early Friday morning and after a breakfast stop in St. Louis, they’ll arrive in Murfreesboro about four hours before game time. After crashing in the field house, they’ll make the trip home Saturday morning.
But Burchett said it was worth all the hassle to assure having a game the first week of the season. The trip has created a buzz among the players and their families, many of whom plan to make a weekend of it and stay in nearby Nashville.
And the Vikings will get to make some memories without spending a dime.
“It’s going to be a neat deal,” Burchett said. “They’ll talk about it forever, whether they go down and get their (butts) kicked or whether they go down and win.”