(8-29-17) Saturday night (8-26-17) on ESPN national high school football was featured, with two of the top QBs in the country the focus of the game.  Bartram Trail (Florida), located in the Jacksonville metro area traveled to Georgia to take on Cartersville (Georgia). It would turn out to be a game to remember.

More and more games like this are being played around the country, so what is it like for a school that has to travel a long-distance and be featured in a game on national TV in the GEICO High School Football Kickoff series.

Celina (Ohio) native and grad (1972) Bev (Merkle) Cabell knows all about what it takes and the work behind the scenes that is put into getting the visiting team ready for a BIG road trip and national TV. It takes way more than showing up and just playing the game.

Bev Merkle Cabell and her former Intern Brion Anderson
Bev (Merkle) Cabell and her former Intern Brion Anderson at 1am after the game

Cabell was hired in the summer of 1999, just prior to the Bartram Trail opening in August and one of just a few employees that have been there from the very beginning.

Cabell’s ‘official title’  is  ‘Athletic Secretary’ although her many duties suggest she might do more than just answer the phone.

Bev took the time and answered several questions about the behind scenes of getting a nationally known football team ready to play on ESPN (due to lightning delay game was started on ESPN2 and finished on ESPNews).

How long have you been preparing for this game (responsibilities)? 

The earliest my notes indicate me starting to plan the logistics of this trip as early March of this year. However, we had been chatting about the opportunity to play live on ESPN since November, 2016 when we were approached by the marketing company who has the ESPN account.

What was some unique issues that came up during all of this– good and bad?

I can’t really think of any ‘unique’ issues that we had to deal with, but logistically I had each day planned out in detail with little down time.

These plans included:

  •   rooming lists (staggering coaches rooms near their position players)
  •  separating the rooms of the water girls and trainers to the top floor away from the players (haha)
  •  hiring security for each night at the hotel to make sure the players didn’t ‘wander’ outside of their rooms (we have great kids but wanted to make sure they didn’t leave their rooms after lights out).
  • Staggering breakfast times and offensive/team meeting so as to not overwhelm the breakfast area with everyone at once
  • Negotiating pricing for each meal (lunch, dinner, after game snacks and pizza), and finding venues that could feed 96 at once when I wasn’t feeding them at the hotel.
  • Working with the Atlanta Braves to secure seats together to attend the Braves/Rockies baseball game on Friday night (after checking into the hotel).
  • Securing all transportation for the team, cheerleaders, and dance team (who I put up at a different hotel in another town….LOL) I also secured a great airfare for myself and my boss, the athletic director to fly up the night before the team arrived to meet with the hotel staff (who were phenomenal) to get everything ready for their arrival.  It sure beat riding the bus up! Haha  I also helped secure travel for our principal and my former boss, the retired athletic director to attend the game as well. We also had one of our local newspaper sports reporters (Will Brown, St. Augustine Record) come along on the trip to document and experience it first hand.)
  • ·         Securing blocks of rooms at a nearby hotel for parents traveling to the game (it’s never a good idea to put parents in the same hotel as the team!)

I must say that finding the perfect hotel is a must.  We had 90% occupancy of this brand new Hampton Inn in Kennesaw (about 25 minutes away from Cartersville).  It felt like home away from home.  The staff became family (from the breakfast ladies asking what I thought the boys might want to eat for breakfast each day, to the folks cleaning the rooms stopping to ask when the game was on tv and writing it in their notes so they could go home and watch it).  The lobby became the living room for everyone to feel at home. 

How did the kids react to all of this in general, the exposure? 

The kids were incredible!  They were so excited to have this opportunity.  I just asked one of the key players his thoughts about the trip.  He said it was a great team bonding trip, and a great end to those not moving on to play at the next level (college).  He said a lot of memories were made that will last a long time.

Would you like to do it again in the future? 

I would do it all again if given the opportunity.  Since I LOVE to travel and plan, it was a highlight of things I have had the opportunity to do.

Your favorite part of this adventure? 

My favorite part of the adventure was seeing how excited and happy the kids were!

Did living in Celina, prepare you at all for football ans athletics in Florida? 

Hmm….maybe it did from the standpoint that I loved Friday nights attending football games.  (The one thing I truly miss is football being played with a ‘chill’ in the air!)

Could Bartram Trail be on ESPN again this season, on October 20th they are scheduled to play Cocoa (Fla), a national powerhouse…it could happen.

About the game—

GEICO High School Football Kickoff series

  • Cartersville (Ga.) (No. 1 team in Georgia’s Class AAAA) vs. Bartram Trail (Fla.)

GAME story by Will Brown from The St. Augustine Record

Bartram Trail rallied from a 28-point first half deficit to force a fourth quarter tie but in the end it turned out to be Cartersville’s 52-45 win on the last play of the game.

Bartram Trail quarterback Joey Gatewood (6’4, 220lb, Senior), an Auburn commit,  had 326 yards total offense and three touchdowns, completing 11 of 14 passes for 191 yards, including a game-tying touchdown to Gunnar Hitzman with 7:10 remaining. Gatewood rushed 20 times for 135 yards and two scores.

“It was fun. It was very fun. Definitely, toward the end, going through something like that was very fun.”

You would think one QB for the Bears would be enough, they have another quality QB in Riley Smith (6’4, 200lb, Senior) who was 16 of 20 for 175 yards and three passing touchdowns.

Cartersville’s Trevor Lawrence, a five-star QB, is a Clemson commit, was 19 of 24 for 393 yards and five touchdowns.