Buckeyes and Vikings

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By Dedra Cordle
Staff Writer

Messenger photos by Dedra Cordle These coaches and administrators will help guide the Westside Vikings as they prepare to take the field once again in the Karl J. Fulton Pony League. Included in the group is former Ohio State football players Lou Mathis (third from left) and Terry Strong (third from right), who helped re-establish the team.
Messenger photo by Dedra Cordle
These coaches and administrators will help guide the Westside Vikings as they prepare to take the field once again in the Karl J. Fulton Pony League. Included in the group is former Ohio State football players Lou Mathis (third from left) and Terry Strong (third from right), who helped re-establish the team.

Even though he is a die-hard fan of the Ohio State football team, Earlo Simpkins can rarely be found sitting in front of his television set on game day. His friends jokingly question his loyalty as he heads out the door before kick-off, but he quickly brushes off their taunts because he has a more important place to be.

An equally fervent fan might suggest there is no such thing, but according to Simpkins the only place he wants to be is sitting in the stands to catch a little league football game.

The draw of watching his nephew take the field is certainly a motivating factor but it is not the only one. He said he always wants to be there to show support to the children in the community.

“It’s just so nice to see them out there on the field and giving it their all,” he said.

Throughout his years as a cheerleader in the stands, Simpkins struck up friendships with parents and family members of the other little leaguers. They talked about their day-to-day lives while encouraging the kids. They confided in each other about the financial burden of enrolling their kids in the league. They sometimes questioned whether the coaches see their children as actual children or just football players.

With these conversations stuck in his head, Simpkins felt the need to lessen the burden parents feel as they struggle to help their children realize their athletic dreams but he was unsure of what to do. The answer came to him when he heard that a bunch of former Buckeyes were getting together and fundraising to put the Westside Vikings of the Karl J. Fulton Pony League back on the field.

Holding Buckeye and Cleveland Browns paraphernalia, Simpkins went to the Moose Lodge early on May 10 where the event was taking place. He purchased gear from vendors, signed up for silent auctions, and paid for numerous autographs for and pictures with players such as Lou Mathis, Terry Strong, Nic Miller, Phil Strickland and Stanley Jackson. He spoke with them about their playing days, current sporting events, the drafting of Johnny Manziel and, most importantly, their goal to help the westside community get their Vikings back and defray the cost little league enrollment in the process.

Simpkins said he was just in awe.

“I’ve never seen a team do anything like this before,” he said.

The Westside Vikings have been a part of the famous and feared Karl J. Fulton Pony League for decades, but the team went under last year when it could no longer be financially supported. It likely would have stayed that way for quite some time, but Lou Mathis moved to town.

As a player during the Woody Hayes era, Mathis was taught that you have to give back. For the past 30 years, he has been doing just that by mentoring youth on and off the football field in his hometown of Paterson, N.J. Now, he intends to do more of the same here.

“When I moved here in January I lived on the westside and just fell in love with it,” he said. “It reminds me a lot of my hometown.”

Mathis said the westside faces many of the same problems that Paterson does – poverty, high crime and easy access to drugs – and he wants to see children in this community overcome the same hardships and temptations faced by the children in Paterson.

He knew reestablishing the team would take a lot of work, so he got right on the phone and reached out to his friends. He brought on Terry Strong, Dan Cunningham and Woodrow Roach as operational advisors. Then he hit the streets to look for coaches who wanted to make a positive impact on the lives of children.

Much buzz was created – several parents signed their boys and girls up as Mathis and his team is charging $20 to participate – but money still needed to be raised and equipment needed to be purchased. So he once again got on the phone and reached out to former Ohio State players to see if they were willing to pitch in by signing autographs. They were.

“If Lou asks me to do something, I’ll be there,” said former Ohio State quarterback Stanley Jackson.

Their relationship was forged when Mathis coached Jackson at Paterson Catholic High School and it has lasted throughout the years. Jackson said that is a true testament to how much Mathis cares about the kids.

“His impact is unbelievable,” he said.

While the fundraiser did not raise as much money as they had hoped – they need to raise at least $10,000 for operational costs and to purchase safe equipment – Mathis said he has faith that all of their needs will be met.

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