SYCAMORE - A grassroots effort to connect high school football teams with National Guard units is expanding.
Erik Baker, athletic director, football coach and intervention specialist for Mohawk Local School District and director of Ohio High School Football Coaches Association Region 2, and Brett Graham, a science teacher and major in Ohio Army National Guard, are coordinating Operation Buckeye Guard.
Through Operation Buckeye Guard, Ohio high school football teams are supporting Ohio National Guard units from 37th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, which is to deploy to Afghanistan in the fall, according to Baker.
Baker said as of Wednesday morning, 302 Ohio high schools had committed to at least having players wear decals on their helmets. Of those, 93 have offered to adopt a unit. Five to eight schools are added to the project daily, he said.
"We'll never turn anybody away. ... It grows every day," he said.
Mailings were sent, and schools interested in participating in the project could contact Baker. From there, the contact information is passed along to National Guard, and schools are provided stickers and banners. Recruiters who already are placed in schools are helping make connections between football teams and National Guard units.
"We just, through the military channels, match up a school," Graham said.
Corporate sponsors are helping fund the cost of materials.
Mohawk is adopting the 1-148th Infantry Unit, which is known as Charlie Company.
Graham said 3,200 to 3,600 soldiers who are part of Infantry Brigade Combat Team, which the Tiffin unit is part of, are to be deployed. It is going to have a big impact when soldiers get ready to leave in the next couple of months, he said.
"The vast majority of this (group) is from Ohio," he said.
Personnel from Ohio National Guard's recruiting and retention battalion and the 37th Infantry Brigade Combat Team worked with Mohawk's high school and junior high school football players during a leadership exercise Wednesday morning.
According to Baker, the day included obstacle negotiation, a rock climbing wall, race carts, fitness work and instruction in health and wellness, decision-making, drug and substance abuse education and Army values.
Baker said the curriculum includes lessons in fitness, leadership and teamwork. The program also includes a classroom session about setting goals and leadership.
"You don't have to be a yeller to be a leader," he said.
"Don't leave nobody" and "Let's go" could be heard as players participated in the boot camp.
Senior Jonathon Morter, a captain on the football team, said players learned quickly they had to work more as a team and do things in unison.
"It was good," he said. "We started out really rough."
Morter said the National Guard soldiers were a lot of fun.
"We look forward to it when they come out to our games on Friday nights," he said.
Pvt. Chad Shellhouse, a 2011 Mohawk graduate in National Guard, is to go to basic training and Fort Lee, Va., to work on helicopters before enrolling at Ohio State University to take Reserve Officers Training Corps classes and obtain a sports medicine degree.
Shellhouse, who played on the Mohawk football team, helped with camp. He appeared on the December page in a National Guard calendar.
"I'm proud of it," he said.
Players participating in the boot camp were given water breaks, and a trainer, student trainers and hydration team were present at the camp. Army officials are well aware of the signs and symptoms of heat stroke, Graham said.