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Success runs in the family

NEW MIDDLETOWN — Mark Brungard has plenty to be thankful for this week.

After all, Brungard is surrounded by smiling faces wherever he goes, from the time he wakes up until the time he goes to bed.

During the day, Brungard is a teacher (and former head coach) at Poland. The Poland Bulldogs (11-2) play Licking Valley on Saturday in a Division IV state semifinal.

When Brungard leaves school for the day, he heads to the football field at Springfield High School where he serves as the offensive coordinator. The Tigers (13-0) play Friday in a Division VI state semifinal against East Knox.

When the work day is finally done, Brungard heads home with his sons, Beau and Brady. Beau is the starting quarterback at Springfield while Brady is the starting center.

“No matter where I go right now it’s football mania, and it’s pretty cool,” Brungard said. “I try to stop and smell the roses, because something like this doesn’t happen too often. I’ve been living the playoff experience in every sense and it’s been a lot of fun.”

Brungard coached at Poland for 11 years. Current Bulldogs coach Ryan Williams worked under Brungard throughout his tenure. Because Poland and Springfield play on opposite nights throughout the playoffs, Brungard has been able to follow the Bulldogs during the postseason.

“What (Poland) has done since starting out 1-2 has been unbelievable, that is a great story for the Valley,” Brungard said. “With us, I’ve never been part of a 10-0 season before, so this run at Springfield is special.”

Brungard said the Poland-Springfield connection is especially rewarding because of the proximity and similarity between the two communities.

“We’re talking about two neighboring communities where a lot of the players know each other, there’s a lot of support on both sides,” Brungard said. “Two public school districts that don’t have open enrollment, I think there is just a lot of mutual respect and admiration between Poland and Springfield.”

TAKING IT ALL IN

Springfield’s first-ever regional championship and 13-0 start has created an outpouring of community support. Tigers coach Sean Guerriero believes it is important for his players to understand the positive impact they have had in their community.

“Last week we came out for the National Anthem a few minutes early, and standing in the end zone you saw what seemed like our entire community in the stands, and you saw this line of cars still coming in,” Guerriero said. “It was important for those kids to enjoy that moment.”

Senior lineman Corey Hatton described last week’s sendoff to the regional title game as “breathtaking” and said that the players definitely appreciate the backing of the school and community.

“Everywhere you go, people are waving, wishing you good luck,” Hatton said. “The energy definitely fuels this team. Being part of the unity is pretty special.”

Guerriero said that the support is not limited to New Middletown.

“Other school districts have reached out and offered to let us practice on their turf fields,” Guerriero said. “Other coaches reach out just to say good luck. Once an area team gets this far, they get the full support of the Mahoning Valley.”

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