This weekend will be a memorable one for the Mervo football team.
The Mustangs are doing something few area teams have an opportunity to do by going on a road trip to Ohio to play a game. The Baltimore City school will play Robert A. Taft Information Technology High School from Cincinnati Sept. 30.
"Our whole program is really excited. I've always wanted to take our kids to play in the Midwest," Mervo head coach Pat Nixon said. "I'm from Pittsburgh, so I know how big football is in that region. I'm really excited for our kids to have the opportunity to get to experience it and represent Maryland."
The opportunity arose after Mervo struggled to fill its schedule with opponents from outside of Baltimore City. In years past, Nixon didn't have a problem finding nonconference opponents to play, but that changed after the Mustangs won the past four Baltimore City Division I championships.
Running out of local options, Nixon decided to look outside of Maryland for competition. He eventually found Taft listed on a website and exchanged film with the Senators' coach. The two coaches agreed that the matchup looked like it would be an even one.
"We decided on a home-and-away agreement, so they're coming to Baltimore next year. That way they'll get the out-of-state experience, too," Nixon said. "Both programs are inner-city schools that have had a lot of local success, so I think it's exciting that both teams will have the chance to experience something different."
Once Nixon found the right opponent, he had to go about finding ways for the Mustangs to be able to afford going to Ohio.
Thankfully for Nixon, Mervo's administration was supportive and agreed to help pay for the trip. The transportation costs are being covered by the school, while most of the meals and hotel rooms are being paid for by the football team.
"We did a lot of fundraising," Nixon said. "A lot of it has been paid through crab feasts, breakfasts, raffles and selling candy. We've all been working hard to make sure this could happen."
Mervo's buses depart at 6 a.m. Sept. 29. The group will spend the whole morning driving and plan to arrive in Canton, Ohio, by lunchtime.
From there, the team will take a three-hour tour of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. For Nixon, the opportunity for his players see such hallowed ground was a necessity after a game in Western Ohio had been scheduled.
"Anyone who plays football wants to go to the Hall of Fame and see what the legends accomplished through their blood, sweat and tears," Mervo senior tailback and defensive back Rykim Lemon said. "I think it'll give us a better view of football's history. All of us want to see our statues in there one day, so we can't wait to learn about what others have done to get there."
After going to the Hall of Fame, the Mustangs will make the drive to a hotel just outside Cincinnati, where the group will be staying for the night.
Kickoff for the game is scheduled for 4 p.m. Mervo will have its hands full with Taft, as the Senators have won their league championship two of the past three seasons and are currently 3-2.
The Mustangs have enjoyed a strong start to their season, opening with wins against Dulaney, Poly and William Penn (Delaware) before suffering their first defeat Sept. 23 against Dunbar, 38-13. For Lemon, the trip comes at the perfect time after the disappointing loss.
"No one ever wants to lose, but I think losing to Dunbar got the team more focused than we were before," Lemon said. "We're all anxious to get to practice on time, work harder and get on the field to play again. We don't want a repeat of last week."
It's clear the team is excited to be a part of this landmark moment in the program's history and to tour the Hall of Fame, but the Mustangs aren't going to Ohio as tourists.
"We're going to have a good time, but we aren't going for fun, we're going for football," Lemon said. "This is a business trip, so we don't want to lose focus. The goal is to come back to Maryland with a win."
Photo Credit: David Jefferson Jr.