June 24, 2020

ANSONIA, Ohio - The rival FFA clubs from Ansonia and Mississinawa Valley High School stayed true to tradition by sponsoring the 11th annual FFA Grudge Match Blood Drive June 23 at Ansonia. But the Grudge Match was different in this summer of COVID-19.

Ansonia claimed a rare back-to-back victory in the challenge by a 19-11 donor vote.  The blood drive accomplished the goal of helping Community Blood Center boost the blood supply before the July 4th holiday by totaling 32 donors including 28 donations.

This year's Grudge Match will be remembered as the year when donors and volunteers wore masks, kept their social distance, and there were no FFA members around to hoist the Grudge Match trophy. Ansonia decided to host the blood drive without students, except for high school donors from neighboring districts.

"Our April blood drive was cancelled and there was a concern we wouldn't have it," said Ansonia agriculture instructor and FFA advisor Emily Smith. "But our superintendent said if we took precautions, we could use the facility. We recognized it is a need. So many blood drives have been cancelled and there's a huge need for blood right now. We thought if there was anything we can do, we should."

Ansonia took the lead in the Grudge Match series last year and now holds a 6-4-1 record. Emily and MVHS FFA co-advisors Gwen Bergman and Carmen Hartzell greeted donors and reminded them to cast their ballot before leaving.

"I'm in the habit of giving blood," said MVHS bus driver Nick Philiposian. "I try to give twice a year, to help people and serve the community."

Ansonia donor Bob Gelhaus voted for his hometown school.  Margaret Harshbarger came from Greenville to donate and was a little undecided about her vote. So was Brandon Townsend from Union City who graduated this spring from Tri-Village High School.

Brandon wore a face mask his mother made from fabric with a pin-up girl design.  He started donating at Tri-Village and made his fourth lifetime donation at the Grudge Match. Like so many high school seniors, COVID-19 erased much of his final semester, including in-person graduation.

"I still got my diploma," said Brandon.

As the Grudge Match continued, so did speculation about what fall will be like at Ansonia and Mississinawa.

"Some might come one day, and some on another day," Emily said was one plan discussed. "We don't all have internet and it's not always reliable," Carmen said about students taking virtual classes online. "I think that's a concern."

Social distancing in the classroom will be another challenge. "If I can't be right there to see how they're doing it, I can't help them," said Gwen.

They agreed with Emily's prediction, "It's going to be weird."