When it comes to success in relation to town size, few schools can match Amanda-Clearcreek. The village of Amanda, located in Fairfield County some 30 miles southwest of Columbus, is home to 742 residents. Not 7,000. Seven hundred.
But don’t let that fool you, this isn’t a district that fields a small team and gets steamrolled every week, only winning when an unimpressive opponent is scheduled. Instead, the Aces have etched their name among the top programs in the state of Ohio.
From 1981-2009, the entirety of the Ron Hinton era, Amanda went 285-90-3. That includes back-to-back Division V state championships in 1999 and 2000, as well as runner-up finishes in 1997 and 2003. Hinton, a member of the Ohio High School Football Coaches' Association Hall of Fame, turned Amanda into one of the premier high school programs in the state and south-central Ohio’s most consistent winner.
During one 11-year span, the Aces advanced to the state semifinals eight times.
“At Amanda, football has sustained the most excellence over a period of at least 10 years,” said director of athletics Michael Patrick. “That’s evident when you look at the Mid-State League championships. I can’t even think of the number in my mind. Then you consider of the eight schools, Amanda is seventh or eighth in size. It’s small, but yet they’ve found that drive to be excellent in football. Without question, the Hinton family is the patron family of success in this district.”
Referring to Amanda, Ohio, as small can be deemed a considerable understatement. The cliché “blip on a map” and “blink and you’ll miss it” are apt descriptions of the rural village located in the heart of Ohio. It’s a whole three-tenths of a square mile.
Find it on Google Earth and you quickly realize it’s literally surrounded by cornfields in every direction. East of town on a piece of land with a sagging elevation sits “The Pit,” home of the Amanda-Clearcreek Aces. The name came from Hinton who wanted to give the school an identity when he arrived. Combined with the geography, it gives opponents the feeling of being trapped. It’s turned into quite a homefield advantage over the years and a community gathering place on Friday nights in the fall.
More than 1,300 people show up to watch the Aces play, doubling the size of the town on game nights. There’s reserved seating for 700, and the renewal rate is near 99.9 percent. Patrick had 400 people renew during one night, causing him to miss the scrimmage he was attending.
“If I screwed that up it would be bad for me,” he said, laughing. “It’s a passage. Grandparents and parents buy seats for their kids to make sure they are all sitting in the same place.”
Many of those in the stands have a direct connection to someone on the playing field. Amanda is a town filled with legacies. Generations of families attend school in the district with a high concentration of boys playing football.
- Population: 742
- Where: 39.650, -82.743
- County: Fairfield
- Zip Code: 43102
- Area Code: 740
- Fun Fact: Amanda is too small for a police force.
“Just about every roster has very common names on it that have a legacy connection,” Patrick said.
Amanda is a one-stoplight community where crime is virtually nonexistent. People happily leave car doors unlocked and allow children to play in the yard unattended, free of worry. Modest houses line the street and quaint buildings, some more than 100 years old, dot the downtown landscape.
When you enter town, you quickly realize the caliber of the football program. Signs trumpet the school’s success and serve as a warning for visiting teams that Friday night will more than likely be treacherous.
“Fans want to be in the stadium two hours before the game,” Patrick said. “You already have tailgating in place. It’s a very important part of the school culture.”
A caravan can be seen leaving town when the Aces play conference foes such as Logan Elm, Bloom-Carroll and Fairfield Union.
“You know when Amanda arrives, all you have to do is see the orange and black,” Patrick said.
The frenzied atmosphere gets its start during the dog days of summer in August. On hot and humid mornings and afternoons, the Amanda-Clearcreek football team can be spotted on the practice field. No drill is left undone and no tackling sled remains stationary. It’s constant action for hours.
It’s at that same time that the town turns its eye to the fall. Recreational softball winds down, golf leagues slow and high school football comes to the forefront.
“There’s just a natural energy when two-a-days start,” Patrick said. “It’s closely watched. Parents park in parking lots to watch their kids participate. The biggest indicator of the passion for football in Amanda is the biddy program. There are a lot of kids that participate in the biddy program and learn the way of a warrior.”
It’s said that teams take on their coach’s personality. In most cases, that’s true. It’s no different in Amanda, where the Aces possess the blue-collar work ethic and attitude of head coach Dale Olney, who doubles as a firefighter.
Olney is someone who doesn’t draw attention to himself and actually shied away from the head-coaching job after Hinton left for Chillicothe in 2010. After pestering from the administration, though, Olney, who was the defensive line coach under Hinton, accepted Amanda-Clearcreek’s overtures.
“He’s every well accepted in this community,” Patrick said of Olney. “He’s a good man, people know he knows football. He’s about as unassuming as you can find. He’s a very grass roots kind of guy. He’s just a worker. Everyone knows he’s the head football coach. He’s got that mantra.”
In three seasons, Olney had taken the Aces to the playoffs twice. During the postseason, Amanda morphs into an even more passionate football paradise. Ohio supports its football programs, but rural communities mixed with the playoffs creates an even more potent amalgamation of enthusiasm and anticipation.
“Anyone that has success in the playoffs, it’s a contagious moment,” Patrick said. “The excitement grows and the community spirit is excellent.”
A contributing factor to Hinton’s sudden departure was a failed operating levy that forced the district's athletic department to charge athletes substantial rates to play sports. Hinton’s leave was stunning and the pay rate left many staggered. The football team felt the effects immediately, as the roster went from 75 to 60 players.
But the community rallied and displayed the hard exterior it has for decades. When the financial situation was at its low point, fundraisers throughout the community were organized. Sports at Amanda-Clearcreek survived, a levy passed and the football roster is plentiful again.
“It’s been impressive learning football here,” said Patrick, who’s an outsider. “They’re very devoted. It’s a great group of men. They take on kids that a lot of programs would say, ‘You’re not athletic enough for us,’ and then they make them into men on the field. It’s impressive to watch the process.”