CINCINNATI -- Joe Bischoff sat with his family just a few rows from the home sideline at The Pit on Saturday morning.
Price Hill was chilly on the first day of April, surrounded by gray skies and, at times, a bit rainy. If you didn’t know any better, you could have mistaken it for late November.
The brisk conditions didn’t deter Bischoff, an Elder senior offensive lineman who recently committed to the University of Cincinnati as a preferred walk-on. Bischoff was happy to start his 18th birthday celebration at The Pit.
“It’s been a lifelong dream of mine actually,” Bischoff said. “I’ve always wanted to go there. I was really excited when I got the opportunity.”
An estimated 2,000 fans watched the University of Cincinnati football team conduct a spring practice in one of the nation’s most famous high school sports venues.
“Getting this many college and high school fans together in one spot on a cold Saturday morning just to watch practice shows you how important football is,” said Joe’s father, Mark Bischoff, 1993 UC graduate and 1987 Elder graduate.
Mark, his wife Renee, and their son Joe proudly wore their UC attire as they waited for the Bearcats to begin practice. The Delhi Township family saw the home stands fill in a bit more around them as 10 a.m. approached.
The Bearcats arrived in three coach buses around 9:40 a.m., before walking down the steps to the famed stadium. Longtime Elder football coach Doug Ramsey, along with other athletic department officials and coaches, greeted the UC players and coaching staff.
UC coach Luke Fickell called Elder officials at the end of January with interest in having the Bearcats practice at a different venue. Both sides were happy with the agreement.
“We always talk about the stadium that we have and how great it is,” Ramsey said. “But then to have UC come here and kind of be the first one to host them -- it’s big for us. We’re proud of the fact that coach (Luke) Fickell called us and was interested in coming here. It gives us a chance to show off our place as well.”
Fickell said after practice it was his first time inside The Pit. He was very impressed with the atmosphere.
“It was special, not just for me or for some of the guys who are from this area, but for our guys to come out and see people around,” Fickell said. “They were able to see some excitement for the program and what they are doing. It meant a lot to a lot of us.”
For UC graduate assistant Austen Bujnoch, a former UC and Elder offensive lineman, returning to The Pit was an enjoyable homecoming. Former UC and Elder players posed for photos with Ramsey and Fickell after the practice on the field.
GALLERY: Photos from Saturday's practice
Fickell wanted the Bearcats to simulate the bus trips because UC has three consecutive road games in September. Even a short trip from campus gave a new perspective for the team in front of fans.
“It’s amazing,” said Bujnoch, a 2009 Elder graduate. “You know we were talking about the idea of coming back to a high school. Elder got thrown out and I was a big advocate. I was like, ‘Let’s do it. Let’s go.’ It’s a great place. I am surprised people actually came out. It’s actually a cold day out here today. It’s amazing to come back here and see it all. To see college athletes on a high school field is a little different.”
For UC video coordinator Adam Niemeyer, a 2007 Elder graduate, Saturday brought back plenty of memories of growing up watching Elder football. Niemeyer has never played a down of competitive football but always welcomes a trip back to The Pit.
Niemeyer did game-day stats and various other tasks for the Elder coaching staff during high school.
The UC graduate has been the full-time video coordinator the past four years with the Bearcats. He had plenty of duties Saturday filming the practice and later breaking it down, but he enjoyed the time to reflect on Elder football this week.
“It’s a special place,” Niemeyer said. “If you haven’t been to a Friday night football game at Elder, it’s a different experience. It’s kind of like going to Nippert at night. We tell people that all the time -- come to Nippert when it’s rocking and has 40,000 people at night. It’s kind of like The Pit. It’s an important stitch in the fabric of our community.”
Elder Athletic Director Dave Dabbelt enjoyed working with the UC staff preparing for Saturday, which was one of UC’s 15 NCAA-allotted spring workouts.
“To me, it’s been a great atmosphere,” Dabbelt said. “I think some of the college players I am sure have heard of The Pit and have never been to it before. Maybe they're local or they are from Cleveland. It is such a historic stadium. You see the folks standing around the sideline. It’s become a real positive thing here.”
Fickell said UC will look to rotate a spring practice at an area high school venue in the future. Saturday was a very good start.
UC will host its spring game April 14 at Nippert Stadium at 7 p.m. It will be yet another opportunity engage with the community this spring.
“The more we can do this, the more we can get out to promote not just our program but everything we do, is going to help us in the long run,” Fickell said.