Return To Normalcy For YSU Football

by Michael Wolfgang

The Youngstown State University football team made its long awaited return to Stambaugh Stadium this spring for the first time since the fall of 2019. After the long layoff caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, fans, players, coaches and everyone involved finally got their chance to return to the Ice Castle.

In August of 2020, the Missouri Valley Football Conference postponed the football season to the spring of 2021, which would include a full eight-game spring league schedule with the Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs to follow.

This past February, before the start of the spring season, YSU announced that they got the green light from The Ohio Department of Health to allow 3,600 fans inside the Ice Castle for each home game.

Ethan Solger, Head Athletic Football Trainer and Assistant Athletic Director for Sports Medicine at YSU, credited the success of the spring season to the student athletes and the sports medicine staff.

“Most people don’t realize what it took for athletic department staff (athletic trainers, strength coaches, equipment managers, etc.) to be able to safely put student athletes on the field,” Solger said. “Most don’t realize the financial implications it created by allowing our student athletes to have the best experience as possible and keep them safe at the same time.”

To Solger’s knowledge, no outbreaks or mass transmissions of COVID-19 were seen as a result of athletic practice or competition on the field and that more virus transmissions occurred during non-athletic activities.

Stambaugh Stadium, Youngstown State University III. Photo by Jack W. Pearce, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Austin Snodgrass, Manager of Athletic Ticket Sales at YSU, said that people were excited to be back after a one-year absence.

“To be able to come to an event on campus was exciting for our season ticket holders and loge members,” Snodgrass said. “I think the fans that were here almost seemed more engaged than before. Fans are happy to be back and they got to see the progress that is being made on the field.”

Snodgrass went on to say that for one of the home games, the ticket office came close to having more people wanting tickets than there were tickets available.

Tickets had to be purchased in advance as they were not available at the stadium on game days.

With Stambaugh Stadium having a maximum capacity 20,630, the athletic ticket office is planning to host attendees up to about half capacity in the fall, which would be 10,315 fans.

Alek Koberna is a sports broadcasting student at YSU and he got the chance to make it to one of the home games. Koberna said that while it was not the normal level of excitement, the energy still had a presence.

“The game day atmosphere was in a way still there. When something good happened on the field it felt like a full stadium,” Koberna said. “It was great to be back at Stambaugh and for once it felt like something in this crazy year felt normal.”

Michael Belcik, a wide receiver on the YSU football team, talked about what it was like down on the field with only 3,600 fans in the seats.

“At times, those 3,600 fans felt like a lot more than 3,600,” Belcik said. “Down on the field, things did not really seem to change. The fans that were there were loud and they were rooting on the team and city that they love, which is Youngstown.”

With the hope and the idea that there will be more fans in attendance in the fall, Belcik is hungry for more fans at the Ice Castle.

“We hope to have more fans in the future because it honestly helps us win football games,” Blecik said. “Home field advantage is a real thing and we take that seriously here.”

The Penguins finished the season with a disappointing record of one win and six losses.

After being cooped up for over a year, just a small number of fans were able to enjoy a football game this spring. As the Penguins continue to grow as a football program and as society begins to navigate our way out of this pandemic, better days seem to be ahead.

The Penguins will play 10 games in the fall as they will begin the season on Thursday, Sept. 2, against Incarnate Word Academy at Stambaugh Stadium.