The Vinton-Shellsburg football team will begin practice on Monday with a unique item players made Friday at the annual camp-out at the Womochil Farm: The Senior Stick.

The hand-made axe-like device contains a sharp stone attached with wire and tape to a branch; it was one of many items the Viking football players made with their own hands at the camp-out. Senior Isaac Wiley said the team hopes to make the Senior Stick part of its team tradition this year.

The camp-out hosts each year Eugene and Ann Womochil, the parents of Viking Head Coach Jim Womochil. Eugene says the couple bought the farm shortly after JFK became President. The land is adjacent to the Cedar River, where the Vikings set up tents and covered pick-up beds with tarps Friday after finishing their last session of Football Camp.

The Womochils help prepare the meal. Eugene accompanies the players to his garden, where they dig carrots and potatoes and pick sweet corn for the meal. The rule for sweet corn: Each player should pick (and husk) the number of ears of corn he plans to eat.  Along the way, some of them found and picked (and ate) rhubarb for the very first time, commenting on how much they liked it.

Along with setting up tents, the players tossed footballs around in makeshift games. Others found snakes or tried their luck at fishing. Finding, and sometimes cooking, snakes, is another camp-out activity, along with tossing footballs and gathering around campfires.

Viking player Nathan Harrelson and his family caught and cooked catfish from the Cedar River. The Womochil family and coaches helped cook the hobos, which include onions, potatoes and carrots.

The Womochil farm has been the site of camp-outs for all high school teams Jim has coached: Williamsburg, C.R. Jefferson and Vinton-Shellsburg.

The Womochils look forward to welcoming the players each year to the farm where Jim grew up before playing football at Vinton and later UNI.

Eugene recalls 1960, and being one of the few farmers around who said they voted for John F. Kennedy. In 1961, Kennedy signed the Consolidated Farm and Rural Development Act of 1961. Womochil credits Kennedy for the program that helped farmers like him to purchase land. The couple bought 350 acres in 1961 and still owns and farms around 300. After retiring from hog farming, Eugene says he tried to be a mail carrier; later the couple began focusing on raising produce for area farmers markets and selling sweet corn each summer.

New season, new class and new district for Vikings

Although Friday nights will look the same to most Viking football fans when the 2018 season starts in Vinton Aug. 24, big changes are coming to many Iowa high schools, including Vinton-Shellsburg and its neighbor/rival to the south, Benton Community.

Both the Vikings and Bobcats have moved from Class 3A to Class 2A, where most of their schedule will include schools that are smaller than the opponents they have played in the past.

The changes began when the Iowa High School Athletic Association reduced the number of Class 4A teams to 42. That meant that former Class 4A teams became 3A teams, forcing 3A teams down to 2A. Vinton and Benton are among those teams.

Both the Vikings and Bobcats will play in Class 2A, District 7. That district includes one very familiar rival, La Porte City Union, as well as several schools that Viking athletes have never played, and towns many from Vinton have never seen.

Along with the Vikings, Bobcats and Knights, that district includes Nevada, West Marshall (located in State Center) and Roland-Story (located in Story City). Having only five games against district opponents means that teams will play four non-district games.

For Vinton-Shellsburg, those non-district opponents for the next two seasons will include Alburnett, Tipton, Oelwein and Waterloo Columbus.

2018 V-S football schedule (with opponents’ 2017 record in parentheses):

08/24 Alburnett (7-2)
08/31 @Tipton (4-5)
09/07 Oelwein (0-9)
09/14 Columbus Catholic, Waterloo (1-8)
09/21 @ Nevada (5-4)
10/28 @ West Marshall, State Center (6-3)
10/5 Union, La Porte City (8-4)
10/12 Roland-Story, Story City (4-5)
10/19 @ Benton Community (6-3)

Playoff changes 

Along with the  class re-alignments and the new districts, high school football teams will have a new system for choosing playoff qualifiers this season. While district champions will earn automatic play-off berths as before, a new system will determine the at-large qualifiers. The Iowa High School Athletic Association will and the 17-point tie-breaker system and begin using the RPI (Ratings Percentage Index) system.

Similar to that used by NCAA to determine its playoff teams, the RPI uses a formula designed to evaluate a team’s victories and the strength of its opponents. And in another change from previous seasons, the results of all games, including non-district contests, will figure into playoff qualifying calculations.

The association chose to keep the current system of 16 teams in each class, with the last two rounds in each class taking place in the UNI-Dome.

See the Iowa High School Athletic Associations description of the playoff system HERE.

See more photos of the camp-out HERE.