In a village of about 3,000 people, a team of 66 young men really can have an effect.
The Baltimore community has thrown their support behind the Liberty Union football team during the Lions run to Saturday’s Division V regional final game.
The streets in the village are lined with plywood signs supporting the team, and Lions’ memorabilia can be found in many local businesses. Ed Schaffner, who owns and manages Schaffner’s Drive-In, has lived in Baltimore his entire life.
“As small a town as we are, for any team in town to go as far as they have, it’s just exciting,” the 54-year-old said. “They have a good following.”
Because Liberty Union is the No. 6 seed in Region 19, fans have had to do some traveling to support the team. The first-round playoff game in Wheelersburg was more than 100 miles from Baltimore, while last week’s game in Nelsonville was about a 40-mile trip.
Liberty Union athletic director George Shreyer said the school sold 460 tickets prior to last week’s game, and his school accounted for about half of the more than 1,600 people in attendance as the Lions beat Oak Hill this past weekend.
“There was a caravan to follow the buses down and (police escort) for the players leaving town and to return at night,” he said. “It’s really neat when you have a small town and the small town atmosphere that locks into the community and into the school.”
Bernie’s Barn and Grill has been one of the local businesses to get involved. The restaurant has made donations to the team throughout the season, and acknowledged players with a defensive player of the week award. From 6 to 8 p.m. today, parents of players are waiting tables with all of their tips and 15 percent of sales going to the Lions.
Manager LeaAnna Savage said Bernie’s stayed open until 1 a.m. after Saturdays game, two hours later than normal, so the team would be able to get food when they got back to town.
“Everybody is just so proud of the boys, to accomplish this much with it not being expected,” she said. “We didn’t know what to expect this year. The most important thing is the pride everybody has taken in the team.”
The Lions began the season 3-2 before winning seven consecutive games, including wins against the region’s second and third seeds. This is the first time Liberty Union has advanced to the regional finals since 2008.
Schaffner was at each of those playoff games and, four years later, was able to recite the final scores. Having attended last week’s game, and with plans to attend Saturday’s at Nelsonville-York High School, he has enjoyed this team’s run into the history books.
“It’s just stuff you remember,” Schaffner said. “A small community going to the playoffs and winning, it’s so exciting. It’s even exciting driving to the games, I can’t wait to go.”
Although she was not living in Baltimore in 2008, Savage was a senior at Liberty Union in 1988 when the team made the regional final and said the connection to — and atmosphere surrounding — this year’s edition of the Lions is similar.
“You don’t just have people that the kids are going to school here, you have generations,” she said. “It’s not just the team, it’s our team.”