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State-Title Football Action To Return to Chillicothe 42 years later

CHS’ Litton Stadium site of 8-man championship game Saturday afternoon

Paul Sturm
Chillicothe News
  • Southwest Livingston will meet North Andrew at 1 p.m. Saturday
  • Chillicothe hosted 1972, 1978 championship games in which CHS played
  • General public not affiliated with either school can buy tickets online after noon Tuesday

By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor

CHILLICOTHE, Mo. — Forty-two years and three days later, state-championship high school football action will return to Chillicothe Saturday afternoon (Nov. 28) when the Missouri State High School Activities Association plays its 2020 8-man state-title game at Jerry Litton Memorial Stadium II. The game will pit nearby Southwest Livingston against North Andrew.

On Nov. 25, 1978, the unbeaten Chillicothe High School football Hornets crushed Washington 42-0 at the then-CHS Stadium (former Chillicothe Business College stadium) in mid-town to capture the Class 3 state crown, the Hornets’ third of the decade and third of five in its history now.

By the time CHS’ team next qualified for a state-championship game seven years later, MSHSAA had initiated a single-site approach – dubbed the Show-Me Bowl – for its gridiron championship games with the “Show-Me Bowl” exclusively hosted by larger city and metropolitan sites (St. Louis, Kansas City, Columbia, Springfield) with professional or college team stadiums. That remains the approach, but, in this year of COVID-19, alternative arrangements became necessary.

The University of Missouri-Columbia was to host the 2020 Show-Me Bowl games for 8-man and the six 11-man football classifications the next two weekends, but, due to the coronavirus complications, the MU Tigers’ football season was pushed back, rearranged, and continues to be reshuffled week to week.

That meant the university’s Memorial Stadium had to be kept available to potentially host Tigers action one or both weekends, giving MSHSAA’s plans the boot.

After exploring options for similar larger sites, but aware that likely crowd sizes and even the possibility of no fan attendance being allowed, the association recruited three Jefferson City-area schools to host two of the 11-man title games each at their respective fields.

As for the 8-man championship game, MSHSAA had an immediate alternative in mind – Chillicothe and the artificial-turfed Bob Fairchild Field at Litton Stadium II – which almost had become the site of the 2016 8-man title game before it landed at MU.

When the pandemic intervened this year, making it more logical to spread the title games out among multiple sites, the state association immediately turned to Chillicothe as its preference to host the 8-man title game. Local school officials quickly agreed to do so.

“They had said in the past they really liked the idea of having the game up here,” Dan Nagel, CHS principal and director of athletics, told the C-T in an interview last week. “When they could not have it at the University of Missouri, due to COVID and other issues, … they went ahead and contacted us and asked if we would host it.”

“They do like our geography, given the majority of 8-man teams (are in northwest and north part of the state) and what that means for their people and their travel,” Nagel elaborated.

“The quality of the facility and the geographic location of the 8-man schools around our stadium made it viable as a good option for them.”

Under original plans, the increased number of 8-man programs this year would have necessitated four weeks of district play, followed by a state semifinals round this coming Saturday and the title game on Dec. 5. However, when one 8-man program called off its season, due to COVID-19 worries, and two others with winless teams informed MSHSAA in midseason that they did not wish to participate in the state playoffs, it eliminated the need for four rounds of district action, resulting in the state semifinals and title-game rounds to advance one week.

Nagel and Phil Willard, retired CHS football coach and AD and primary designer of Litton Stadium II, are serving as site managers for Saturday’s event, Nagel reports.

MSHSAA provides a flat stipend to the host school and the school then determines how it budgets its various costs (including local staffing needs) within that amount, Nagel explained. If the host school ends up over that budget, it pays the excess, but if it stays within the provided amount, it retains any unused money. The CHS administrator stated he fully expects the local costs to be less than the MSHSAA-provided stipend, but likely by a relatively-limited amount.

Nagel said CHS will operate the stadium’s concessions stand and keep any profit which might be realized, but noted that only prepackaged food will be served, along with beverages.

As for fan attendance and COVID-19-related restrictions, the CHS principal/AD said admission, beginning at 11:30 a.m. Saturday for the 1 p.m. contest, will be with pre-purchased, electronic/digital tickets only.

Each participating school is allotted 750 tickets and will have an exclusive purchasing period from this past Saturday through noon Tuesday.

Any tickets not purchased by noon Tuesday – and, given the small size of participating schools, there routinely are “leftover” tickets after the schools’ exclusive period, Nagel noted it was indicated to him – then become available online to the general public via the website.

Upon arrival at the stadium, a fan will need to display their purchased “ticket” either via a “smartphone” display or a printed copy (including the scanning image), which the gatekeeper will scan for admission. There will be no “at-the-gate” purchase, but – assuming there is not a sellout – a person with a “smartphone” could make his or her purchase(s) on the way to the gate, if they had not previously been sure they’d attend.

Nagel said, given Chillicothe’s historical affinity for high school football, he anticipates there will be some locals and area/regional fans who decide at the relatively-last minute to attend, especially with neighbor Southwest Livingston competing.

Once in the stadium grandstands, fans will be encouraged to sit in socially-distanced family groups.

“Signage will be in place and participating schools will be encouraged to have their fans group by families, Nagel notes. 

He reminds that, due to city and county public health requirements, any fans not socially-distanced will need to be masked.

“If it does get crowded, we will be offering ‘the hill’ (embankment at the north end of field) for people to space themselves on,” he added.

Regarding logistics and conduct of the game, Nagel says the markings to adapt the stadium’s full-size field to the shorter, narrower 8-man layout will be done with baseball-field-like chalk, as recommended by MSHSAA. At present, the plan is to do that Saturday morning once any dew has evaporated.

What will be needed are sidelines, perimeter “restraining” lines which permit free movement of field officials, and the bench areas for each squad.

In order to have it aligned with the goalposts, in case either team chooses to attempt a field goal or extra-point kick, the playing field will be centered between the field’s permanent sidelines. Temporary perpendicular hash marks at every 5-yard stripe will be chalked in to guide ball placement for the start of each play, Nagel reports.

MSHSAA prefers chalk to the use of tape or weighted plastic for the various field markings because it stays in place better and does not necessitate a halt in play to get either of the latter two either replaced or back in proper alignment.

While the clocks/scoreboard operations crew and public address announcement personnel will be those Chillicothe uses for its home football games, the “chain gang” will be manned by MSHSAA-registered game officials, who also serve as backups to on-field officials, in case of injury or illness, Nagel reports.

Gate workers and security and supervisory personnel will be locally provided.

As cited at the beginning of this article, Chillicothe last hosted a state-title football game in 1978. CHS’ Hornets also had won their 1972 state crown at home.

The spring and summer following the November 1978 Chillicothe win over Washington, the stadium’s grandstands structure underwent a significant overhaul to improve and weatherize it to extend its useful life.

The project was largely underwritten by the parents of recently-deceased U.S. Congressman Jerry Litton, a former CHS football player. That led to the revamped facility’s being formally named Jerry Litton Memorial Stadium. The overhaul, overseen by now-late-CHS football coach Bob Fairchild, has it still structurally-viable to the present day.

As needs of the school district evolved with the addition of other sports programs as time passed and as age caused some portions of the facility to become less efficient or adequate and following the construction of the new high school which opened in 2000-01, a fund-raising campaign undertaken over the course of a number of years to construct a new stadium at the new school’s site.

Greatly aided by large donations from the Litton Foundation, Chillicothe Education Foundation, and other local charitable foundations, as well as many individuals and groups, acting upon a design generated after extensive research by then-CHS head coach Willard, the stadium project became reality and ground work was begun in 2011. A year later, in August 2012, the attractive new stadium – retaining the same name – and its attractive, two-toned artificial-turf field – named for Fairchild – made its debut.

Now, showing scant signs of aging after nine years of use, somewhat unexpectedly, it will join (barring COVID-19 interference) its predecessor in having the distinction of having hosted a state-championship football game.