Midd-West to receive NFL funds for football program

MIDDLEBURG – After months of being in contact with the NFL about its funding program for high schools, Midd-West can officially say it’s receiving a grant from the league.

Though the exact details of the loan still have to be worked out, the Mustangs can say they’re the first team to receive such help from the NFL.

As part of the grant, Midd-West will be getting a lot of help from other name brands including Nike, Riddell and the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Superintendent Rick Musselman and principal Thor Edmiston made students aware of the grant Thursday afternoon.

It’s a long step for the fledgling program, which has roots in a cooperative between Middleburg, West Snyder and East Juniata that ended with the 2017 season.

After that, what seemed like the best option on the table was a new cooperative, with Mifflinburg.

“We were looking at all possibilities to ensure football continued at Midd-West,” Musselman said. “During that time, the NFL had reached out to someone at the PIAA because Pennsylvania has two (pro) football teams in the state and were contacting them in to see if anybody in the state was interested in starting up a football team.

“That person then gave the NFL our information and we’re now the first (high school) football program in the United States to partner with the NFL.”

The possibility of an NFL partnership was brought up at the school board meeting where the Mifflinburg proposal was to be voted on. District 4 chairman James Zack discussed it at the meeting, and the board decided to pursue the opportunity. A day later, all parties were mum on the pitch, ostensibly at the behest of the NFL.

The partnership approval was revealed to Musselman and work began behind the scenes.

Musselman, Edmiston and athletic director Bree Solomon have been working with Nike to come up with a uniform design that they both like that can be available by the start of the season.

Nike hasn’t set a limit on how much the district is allowed to get from this deal.

“They have made recommendations on some of the uniforms based on the timing,” Musselman said. “They haven’t said we have an X-limit number of uniforms. We’re just grateful.”

This deal includes both home and away uniforms for the varsity team, gloves and cleats. The junior varsity team will also benefit from this, but for now, Musselman said, “We want what’s best for the varsity team.”

Uniform contributions don’t stop there.

Riddell will provide both pads and helmets for the team. Despite being the most vital part of a player’s uniform, the helmet – based on colors and stickers they want – will come after they have the uniform designs done.

Much of the team’s training equipment will be coming from the Steelers. Musselman isn’t sure what all is included as of right now, but imagines it will include indoor and outdoor training equipment as well as locker room appliances.

The district also has a deal through Good Sports where it will get 90 percent off the cost of needed equipment that the Steelers may not provide – all Midd-West essentially has to do is pay the shipping. The deal is good for two to three years.

“Some of these things we’re just taking guesses on because we’ve never had football here before,” he said.

Footballs themselves are included for the inaugural season. The Mustangs have seven games scheduled – just two of them are home games – and Musselman ordered two for each game and an extra 30 practice balls on Wednesday afternoon.

Discussions between the NFL and Midd-West opened last September. Musselman said the district knew it was approved for a grant for some time now. Though he still isn’t sure what all is included, he’s happy the rumors can slow down some.

“(The) NFL’s PR team had asked us to keep this confidential,” he said. “If they’re doing all of this for us, the least we can do is keep it quiet for them. When the PIAA approached, I had to keep it confidential.”

Not surprisingly, that led to rumors and speculation, not favorable to Midd-West.

“I’ve heard things like, we don’t know what we’re doing, we had chances to buy youth equipment from East Juniata but we blew that and that we blew the grant. So I’m kind of happy that word will be going out and people can know all about this and get organized because it’s been difficult to help the situation when I can’t talk about it.”

In January, the school board decided to move ahead with football, not knowing what was in store from the NFL. That decision brought a football team to Midd-West for the first time.

PIAA executive director Robert Lombardi said his agency was pleased to see Midd-West get its own program, just as he would be for any high school that is able to expand its athletic offerings.

“Any major sports association or organization would support a grass roots school to develop football or baseball or basketball (or other sport),” he said. “We think it shows a great relationship that they understand that sports start at the high school and junior high level.

“We think it’s great that (the NFL) will support them to start. It’s a new experience.”

The Mustangs do not have a coach or coaching staff lined up for the fall, but have advertised for the position. The NFL has offered help there as well by reaching out to former professional players who are members of the NFL Legends Community to see if there’s any interest.

“It’s possible that someone who recently or once played could come coach our team,” Musselman said. “We haven’t heard anything yet and I’m not sure what the local interest is either.”

He also said the NFL is giving the district money for athletic training purposes.

Musselman said the community has a great midget football league that has extended to the junior high team and now the varsity level and says the grant may help spark a little more interest. The youth organization was so eager to have a place to play after the East Juniata co-op ended that it offered to help fund the program.

“We have 112 (students) that have expressed interest in playing football,” he said. “I think this will help a little, but there’s a difference between signing up to play and actually playing football.”

The school board approved a team under the condition that the team fund a portion of its costs. How necessary that will be this year – or as long as the NFL is involved – remains to be seen. But Musselman said the community has to be ready to step in when the startup period is over.

“It’s going to be very important for our boosters to keep the interest strong in the community,” Musselman said. “The NFL will give us money to get started and it’ll be important for the boosters to keep that going so we still have Mustang football. The grant will only pay for so much and so the boosters will be asked to help cover some of those costs.”

Middleburg and West Snyder school districts – later high schools in one district – never had football until 2001, when Middleburg student Jon Lauver proposed a cooperative agreement with East Juniata, which was accepted. That cooperative continued when the Snyder County schools merged to form the current Midd-West in 2004. In 2016, Juniata County School District voted to end the co-op.

Midd-West will play as an independent for at least one, possibly two years before contractual agreements require the team to enter the Heartland Conference. Based on size, the Mustangs are likely to be placed in the large-school division of the conference, where they would face perennial powerhouses like Selinsgrove, Shikellamy and Jersey Shore. The conference could opt to align the school in a smaller division, at least at the outset.


Sports editor Jeff Fishbein contributed to this story from Hershey.