Plymouth honored military in a big way on and off field

Mark Hazelwood • Sep 9, 2019 at 8:08 PM

PLYMOUTH — Mark Genders knows the drill.

Both literally and figuratively.

The 12th-year Plymouth football head coach knows alternate uniforms are extremely popular with players and supporters in all levels of the sport.

But last Thursday, as the Big Red gathered one last time before their annual rivalry home game vs. Willard — Genders experienced something different.

“The reaction was pretty … I wouldn’t call it an emotional time — but a different excitement that I had never experienced before,” Genders said.

The coach is referring to when he showed his team they were chosen to where Ohio Army National Guard camouflage jerseys for the game against the Crimson Flashes.

The front of the jerseys read ‘OHIO’ above the lettering with the national guard patch in the upper left. The left sleeve had the Ohio flag, and above the number on the back of the jersey read ‘NATIONAL GUARD’ instead of a player’s last name.

Already debuting new helmets this season, Genders said his players were excited to say the least.

“Only nine sets of these uniforms exist — and we were one of the teams selected to wear them,” he said. “To say that they were humbled and appreciative is an understatement. Because it went from representing us to representing a bigger picture here.”

On the field, it certainly carried over. One week after a 48-18 win over Cardington-Lincoln on Aug. 30, the Big Red ran for 310 yards and five touchdowns in a 46-12 win over the Flashes.

But the entire experience was about more than looking good. Start at the top with Genders, who was on active duty in the U.S. Army Reserve from 1989-95.

As a result, Genders and the Plymouth athletic programs and students are very involved with the Ohio National Guard. The football team went to Camp Perry near Port Clinton over the summer and participated in a confidence course training.

Sergeant First Class Eric Hammond is very involved with Genders and the Plymouth student body. The coach also works with Sgt. Healy with a kickoff event to start the school year, which includes obstacle courses and speaking to the kids about responsibility and leadership.

“We’ve had a strong relationship and we do a lot,” Genders said. “Partly as being a former soldier, it’s one of those things where we honor the military all the time with things that we do. We carry the flags of all five branches of the military plus the POW-MIA flag onto the field and things like that.”

Genders also noted how good it felt to see the reaction from parents and community members to the uniforms. Sometimes a different look isn’t always the most popular decision.

“Everyone was just ecstatic,” he said. “This community was pretty proud of our boys, as they should be. They earned it with all the things they do and what those (National Guard) guys have observed them doing with the training and all of that. These boys earned it.”

Plymouth is averaging 47 points per game. Though it’s very early, Genders said expectations were always going to be higher than normal. The Big Red returned most of their team that went 4-6 last year — which included three losses by a combined eight points.

“We have any experienced team with good numbers at 47 kids,” he said.” With our offense, everyone on our offense minus one kid is a returning lettermen. We have four linemen and a tight end up front who are all returning seniors, and out of our core seven there, six of them are seniors.I think any time you bring that back, things move quicker. It’s second nature for us now.”

The Big Red will make the 13-mile trip to Buckeye Central (0-2) on Friday for yet another rivalry game. A win there would give Plymouth a 3-0 start entering a stern test at St. Paul on Sept. 21 in the Firelands Conference opener.

“We certainly don’t want to get ahead of Friday,” Genders said. “Buckeye has lost a couple of games, but it’s all about matchups. They’ve faced some teams who spread it out — and that hasn’t favored them. They are big and physical  — so they like their match up with us compared to others. It’s another crosstown rival for us. It’s a big game and it will be another physical matchup like it almost always is.”

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