Other than tweaking a Tony Stewart press release and the occasional AP story, this was my last byline in The Republic. Not the most exciting story, but it’s here for posterity’s sake.

Originally published in The (Columbus, Ind.) Republic, June 10, 2009

By Andy Proffet
aproffet@therepublic.com

INDIANAPOLIS — Columbus East’s 2009 football season was already going to start on the road.

That road trip will now be a few miles longer, to a lot bigger stadium.

East will face Greenwood in the 10th annual PeyBack Classic on Aug. 21 at Lucas Oil Stadium. Gametime is scheduled for 6:05 p.m.

The official announcement came Tuesday at the Colts complex, with representatives from all six participating teams on hand.

Indianapolis Tech will face Indianapolis Arlington at 3:30 p.m. in the first game of the 2009-10 Indiana high school football season. Lebanon will face Mooresville after the East-Greenwood game.

East coach Bob Gaddis said the players and their families are excited about the opportunity to play on the Colts’ home field.

“We’re going to ask the band to come, we’re going to try to get the kids to go, we’re going to try to make it a big community event for Columbus East High School,” Gaddis said.

Seniors Drew Kiel and Logan Perry accompanied Gaddis to Tuesday’s press conference.

“We’re blessed to be able to play there,” Kiel said.

“I think it’s a great opportunity,” Perry added.

Both players expressed their thanks to Manning and his foundation for making it possible for them to play at Lucas Oil.

Chance to play on big stage

The PeyBack Classic was established in 2000 to enable football teams in Indianapolis Public Schools the chance to play a regular-season game in the RCA Dome. In 2004, other schools began to get invitations, and the event continued when the Colts moved to Lucas Oil Stadium.

Manning said the Classic, which is funded through his PeyBack Foundation, is a way to give high school players and coaches “lasting memories.”

“I had a chance to play in the Louisiana Superdome three times when I was in high school, and it’s still a special memory to me,” Manning said. “Me and my buddies still talk about we were 3-0 in the ‘dome in my high school years.

“… There is a different feel when you play in a pro stadium.”

That’s worth the cost of losing a home game, Greenwood coach Mike Campbell said.

“It’s an irreplaceable experience for our kids. It’s an opportunity to get to play on one of the biggest stages. Lucas Oil is going to be a Super Bowl site, so you know our guys are going to say, ‘Hey, you know we played in a stadium that hosts a Super Bowl.’ Not many kids get the opportunity,” Campbell said.

“Playing a great team like Columbus East makes it special too. Coach Gaddis, those guys have done a lot of great things down there with that program obviously. We lose a home game, but we could not play any home games and have the opportunity to play in Lucas Oil Stadium would be worth it every year.

“I can’t wait to run out on the field and get that experience in an NFL stadium.”

Tuesday’s announcement means both Columbus schools will play football games in Lucas Oil Stadium in the first month of the season. Columbus North will face Bloomington North on Sept. 5. That game was also a road game for the Bull Dogs.