Chillicothe's Litton Stadium II to be Site of Missouri 8-man Football State-Title Game
By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor
COLUMBIA — Although much remains to be decided between now and then – including whether the COVID-19 pandemic even allows the game to be played, a scenario in which last year’s Missouri high school 8-man football state runnerup – the Southwest Livingston Wildcats – play for the 2020 state title only 12 miles from home and within the boundaries of their home county now exists.
Forced to find new homes for its “Show-Me Bowl” series of football state-championship games because the planned site – the University of Missouri’s Memorial Stadium at Columbia – won’t be available, due to coronavirus-caused additions to the MU Tigers’ schedule for the weekend when the “Show-Me Bowl” is to occur, the Missouri State High School Activities Association this week announced replacement sites for the 8-man and six 11-man title contests.
On Wednesday, a day after MSHSAA disclosed the 11-man games will be dispersed – presumably two apiece – to three Jefferson City-area high school fields (Jefferson City High, Helias and Blair Oaks), an association news release announced the 8-man title game will be played at Chillicothe High School’s Jerry Litton Memorial Stadium II in early December.
When originally planned for MU’s stadium, the 8-man game was planned for an 11 a.m. start on Friday, Dec. 4. While MSHSAA’s statement Wednesday did not specify a date or time for the state final at artificial-turfed Bob Fairchild Field in Litton Stadium, presumably the game will be shifted to Saturday, Dec. 5, with an afternoon start.
Southwest Livingston’s cooperative squad that includes students at neighboring Hale and Tina-Avalon high schools currently sports a 4-1 record with its only loss a recent 1-score loss to 2-times defending state champ Mound City.
While MSHSAA hasn’t posted how the 8-man state bracket will be set this year, there is a possibility Southwest Livingston and Mound City could repeat both that recent matchup, played on SLHS’ field at Ludlow, and last year’s state-title contest in the finals this year. At present, they lead their respective district ratings.
The selection of Chillicothe’s 8-years-old stadium for the 2020 8-man championship contest comes four years after Litton Stadium II appeared well-positioned to serve that same purpose.
In 2016, the state association – with St. Louis’ Edward Jones Dome having shifted its focus away from being a football facility in the fall after the Rams’ move back to Los Angeles – had contracted with Missouri State University at Springfield to play all six of its 11-man title games there the weekend after Thanksgiving, but to again split off the 8-man game to a separate, neutral site. Prior to 2013, the 8-man championship contests – which dated back to the 1980s – had been played on the home field of one of the participants.
In the spring of 2016, Chillicothe and nearby Cameron schools – both having artificial-turf fields and sizable stadiums – emerged as apparent finalists to host the again-orphaned smaller-scale title game. With, at that time, all of the schools participating in 8-man-style football located in the northwest quadrant of the state, having a game site in the same region seemed logical, even though many 8-man schools and coaches still sought to remain associated with the “Show-Me Bowl” concept by playing at the same site as the 11-man programs.
After some lobbying, in early June, MSHSAA’s board of directors reconsidered its plan, even though it had dispatched evaluation teams to the Chillicothe and Cameron sites in April and reportedly found the Litton Stadium venue desirable and easily adequate.
A new plan was proposed and approved in which the 8-man championship contest and 11-man’s Class 6 game would be played on Faurot Field at Mizzou’s Memorial Stadium on the Friday prior to Thanksgiving – the weekend before the other 11-man games at Springfield.
That was logistically possible because the smaller number of schools included in Class 6 meant it, like the 8-man ranks, had one less round of postseason competition than did 11-man classes 1-5. Rather than having the 8-man and Class 6 11-man teams have a 2-weeks lag between their state semifinals and finals, the shift forward by a week allowed them to coincide with a date when the university field at Columbia could be utilized.
This year, the delayed start to college football’s season, because of COVID-19 complications, and a rearranged Southeastern Conference schedule that put Mizzou playing at home the first weekend of December, when the Show-Me Bowl was to take place there following the original conclusion of the Tigers’ regular season, meant the state high school association had to scramble to locate new, controllable venues which could lessen the potential risks from the coronavirus.
To limit the number of teams – and fans – at any given locale, the choice was made to spread the six 11-man games among three sites. MSHSAA officials made a point to note that, if one or more of the teams from any of the three schools serving as game sites qualifies for the championship game, its contest will be played at one of the other two locations. However, given that all three sites are in the same town, if any or all three of the host schools earned the right to play for their respective classifications’ titles, they would have essentially the equivalent of a home game.
That is far from unprecedented in the state’s history of a postseason system that determined a state champion, a system dating to the late 1960s.
For the majority of the years the first two decades of the playoffs, title games were played on the home field of one of the participating schools. Both Chillicothe’s 1972 and 1978 titles were claimed at home at the old, former Chillicothe Business College stadium in midtown. The stadium was overhauled following the 1978 season and renamed in honor of the former United States congressman, a CHS alumnus who tragically died in a plane crash in August 1976. The charitable foundation established by Litton’s parents in his memory contributed substantial funds to that major refurbishing and to the construction of the current multi-million dollars current stadium, completed in 2012.
Ironically, the decision to have this year’s 8-man championship game in Chillicothe would give Southwest Livingston, should it make the finals, the same as a home game, being only about 15 miles from the Wildcats’ true home field.
Whether any restriction on the Wildcats utilizing the stadium for practice in the week leading up to the game, if it turns out Southwest qualifies, is unclear. However, until that preceding week, the Wildcats seemingly would be free to practice there, if coach Oren Magruder desires and the stadium is available.
Another ironic aspect of Chillicothe now hosting the game it looked likely to host in 2014 is that the geographic scope of schools playing 8-man ball mushroomed this year.
Rather than almost-universally clustered in the northwest portion of the state, as it was six years ago, the downsized game – which involves a shorter, narrower field of play than 11-man – this year has nearly three dozen schools involved, including several in northeast and central portions of the state and many in west-central and southwest Missouri.
In 2014, when Southwest Livingston also was a potential candidate to play in the title game, whichever teams reached the finals would have had generally-similar length trips to play in Chillicothe. Depending on how the pairings for the semifinal round eventually shake out this fall, if one of the southwest Missouri schools manages to reach the title game – which, based on results to date, seems unlikely, it now theoretically could face a 3-hours plus trip to face a team having traveled only about 20 minutes.