There's a side of the Big 33 game that virtually goes unrecognized but the stories generated by it are sure to be impressive.
Such is the case of Scott and Judy Ayle (pictured below with an autographed football with all of their house guests over the years) of Palmyra, Pa. just next door to Hershey where the Big 33 game is being contested. For many years now the couple has been a host family to players from the visiting teams of the prestigious gridiron all-star game.
Many former and current Ohio State players have lived with the Ayle family during their week's stay in Hershey when they played in the contest. Orlando Pace and Andy Katzenmoyer along with others like Tommy Hoying, Steve Wisniewski, Derek Combs, Kenny Patterson, Freddie Pagac Jr., B.J. Barre, Maurice Hall, Justin Zwick and Chad Hoobler were all hosted by the Ayle's. Brian Hartline happens to be the current Buckeye this year.
"We've been a host family for 16 years," said Judy Ayle who, along with her husband, got to spend some time getting to know the Hartline family at both of Ohio practice sessions on Thursday.
Scott Ayle graduated from dental school at Ohio State in 1973 so this gig, of course, is right up his alley.
"It's just awesome," he said. "But the best part of it all was seeing some of our boys play in the Fiesta Bowl in 2002. The whole family went out and saw them play and it was just an unbelievable New Year's."
The Ayle's have two daughters to go with another 16 sons now that they consider to be a part of their extended family.
"That's the best part, getting to know all of these kids and their families and just the whole aspect of the game itself," said Judy who's daughters Alicia, 28, and Sue Ellen, 26, have grown up with the game. "It's an awesome experience and I recommend it for anybody."
The original motive of the Ayle's to become a host family however had nothing to do with Ohio State or the Buckeyes. Maryland was Pennsylvania's opponent in the Big 33 at the time they got involved.
"We actually got into it because of the Big 33 itself and what it meant. There was no Ohio connection at that time," Steve said. "We got into it because we like kids and we like football. And then we found out what all is involved with the Big 33 like the scholarships and the Buddy's that all the players have. There is so much more to it then just the game itself."
The reward for being a generous host family has been priceless.
"I am probably a bigger NFL fan than my husband is and for me to sit down and be able to watch Orlando Pace and Kenny Peterson play in the National Football League is just the most awesome experience," Judy said. "And we got to know Ben Roethlisberger when he was here and I've been a Steeler's fan since I was a little girl. To watch Ben go to the Steelers is just fantastic. You can't turn on a game on Sunday afternoon without seeing one of the guys that has been here to play in the game, play on Sunday afternoon and that's just really, really neat."
Some of the stories that they shared were really, really neat also.
Like the story Judy told about Peterson. They discovered that Kenny Peterson really dislikes bugs.
"When we had our family night, another host mom decided that she needed to play a trick on Kenny," Judy said. "So she fixed his dinner plate and put a spider in the middle of it, a black, rubber spider. And he all but took the picnic table with him jumping out of the way.
But she decided that that wasn't the end of the tale. She got him a card and had the kids in the neighborhood go out and collect bugs. She put the bugs in the card and sent it to him at my house. When he opened it up I have never seen anybody move so fast in my life. And we have laughed about that ever since."
Scott was involved with a unique experience when Katzenmoyer was at his house.
"He came home after a practice and you think he would be dead tired late at night," Scott said. "But our oldest daughter was in high school at that time and he had her sit on his back while he did push ups."
And there's more.
"When we had Tommy Hoying here our very first player we hosted, Sasha Hire who went on to Sheppard College, came to see the game," Scott said. "Sasha and his girlfriend came to visit when Tommy was here and when Tommy came from practice one day - between Sasha and Tommy and my girls - we had about an inch of water on the kitchen floor and we had a hell of a water battle.
"So we've had some great times with the kids."
Unfortunately only a small ratio of those kids have kept in touch with the Ayle's over the years but it's through no fault of their's.
"I do send them all birthday cards and Christmas cards every year," Judy said. "Steve Wisniewski keeps in touch, we usually hear from once a year, and so does Sasha Hire our first Big 33 player, he still calls me ma ma, we're actually going to go visit him this fall. And Maurice Hall stays in touch."
"He just sent us a picture from his senior year (at Ohio) State recently and we have it framed in our basement," Scott said.
But that's okay with the Ayle's who really expect nothing from the kids that they host in the long run.
"We don't have any expectations of them," said Judy who cooks breakfast every day and has a snack waiting when he comes home every night. "We just want them to have a good time while they're here. We hope they've all had a good time. I know I can tell you that I have a wonderful time with it and I look forward to it every year."
And Scott can vouch for Judy on that.
"You should see her run from a 300-pound lineman with a squirt gun in his hand," he said.
It's truly a wonderful experience for the Ayle's family to be involved in.
"I wouldn't change it for anything," Scott said. "It's just wonderful."
And it just keeps getting better. They've really enjoyed having Hartline in their home this week.
"What a sweetheart! He is so awesome," Judy said. "He's a nice friendly young man and he's very mannerly. We just love having him."
And they are fully aware that Hartline didn't get to play his senior season because of a leg injury but they're not worried for him at all - okay maybe a little - in his first real game back in nearly 11 months.
"He just makes me feel confident that he's ready to go and he's anxious to get out there on that field and take that ball and go with it," Judy said.
Scott thinks that you can tell just from watching Hartline in practice.
"You can see he's out there having a ball on the field," he said. "Some guys come to practice and they just go through the motions but he's having fun out there."
And having fun, after all, is all their week together is really all about.