Prep Football

Homeless Benton Community Bobcats are competing, not complaining

With stadium unusable, Benton Community football players are 'road warriors'

The press box at Benton Community's Bobcat Stadium in Van Horne was blown into the stands by the derecho of Aug. 10. The
The press box at Benton Community’s Bobcat Stadium in Van Horne was blown into the stands by the derecho of Aug. 10. The stadium can’t be used for the 2020 season because of electrical damage so the Bobcats football team is playing all of this season’s games on the road. (Mike Hlas/The Gazette)

VAN HORNE — No matter how many games Benton Community’s football team wins this season — and it could again be several — it will know it took harder shots than any Bobcats team before it and got back off the turf.

The COVID-19 situation is bad enough, really rough on all schools and their students. On top of that, the derecho of three weeks ago tore up Benton’s communities of Atkins, Blairstown, Elberon, Keystone, Newhall, Norway, Van Horne and Watkins.

Corn crops were crushed. Barns and silos were smashed. It’s a common sight to see tarps on roofs of homes and garages in the towns. The opening of the school year here was delayed until Sept. 8 because all the school buildings suffered significant damage from the hurricane-force wind.

Yes, Aug. 10 was one rotten day here. The Bobcats football team practiced that morning. Then it really went to work a few hours later, and for several days to come.

“A lot of people had minor to severe damage,” said Benton co-head coach Jeff Zittergruen. “Our seniors organized different crews to help wherever they were needed.”

In the meantime, football season rapidly approached and the Bobcats were suddenly homeless. Incredibly, the wind blew the Bobcats Stadium press box off its perch and into the bleachers.

“The bigger issue,” Zittergruen said, “is that we lost one of our Musco lights and it messed up our electrical wiring throughout the stadium. It will have to be redone and replaced.”

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Benton was to open its season last Friday at home against county rival Vinton-Shellsburg. Instead, the game was moved to Vinton, 14 miles away. Activities passes of students at both schools were honored. The Bobcats were supported in a big way, with even more fans than the home Vikings.

Benton will again play at Vinton on Sept. 25 when it faces Grinnell in the Bobcats’ homecoming game. After playing at Williamsburg this Friday, Benton will return there the following week for a “home” game against Oskaloosa. It will be the Bobcats’ Senior Night.

“It was very gracious of those schools,” Zittergruen said. “It’ll give us a sense of normalcy. Four of our games will be in Vinton or Williamsburg, so it’ll be a little bit routine.

“We’ll be road warriors. It’s going to be tough, but we know the situation. It’s disappointing to the seniors not to play at home in their stadium, but they’ve embraced it.”

You deal the best you can with what you can. The Bobcats need look no further to understand that than at one of their seniors, Will Von Ahsen. He has kept statistics for the football team since he was in seventh grade. He does the same for the boys’ basketball team.

He wore a Benton jersey on the sideline Friday night in Vinton. If he could play, he would. His heart is on the field during games, not on the sideline. But he has limited use of one side of his body because he had a stroke in utero.

“I love sports,” Von Ahsen said. “It’s one of the things that calms me down.”

“Will is an outstanding young man,” Zittergruen said. “He can’t be part of the playing process, but he is one of us.”

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Von Ahsen is an athlete, mind you. He runs on the Bobcats’ cross country and track teams. He has run in a lot of morning heat since cross country practice began for the coming season. He climbed over a 5-foot wire fence at Vinton at halftime Friday with fluid motion.

The derecho was tough on him and his family. His parents are building a new house in the area, so they’ve been staying with Will’s grandparents outside Newhall. The storm toppled 13 trees on that property.

“We couldn’t see the barn from the house,” Von Ahsen said. “We lost power for 11 days. I had to use a lantern at night.”

They coped. They adapted. There’s been a lot of coping and adapting here lately.

The Bobcats came to Vinton-Shellsburg Friday, built a 28-10 lead, and won, 28-21. They’ll face a fine Williamsburg team Friday as they continue to get used to feeling at home on the road. But they’ll compete.

Comments: (319) 368-8840; mike.hlas@thegazette.com

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