Let the games begin.

The long-awaited fall sports season for area teams begins at the end of the week. The first week of football games starts a weekend stampede of tournaments around the area.

Union and Sullivan softball have two-day tournaments while East Central College has a two-day volleyball tournament. On Saturday, we’ve got the Borgia volleyball and New Haven softball tournaments along with the St. Clair cross country meet. It’s a very busy time.

It should be an extremely interesting Friday night of football. There’s one local game as St. Francis Borgia Regional goes to Pacific. However, that’s it as most teams will be playing foes from outside the area.

Washington and Union used to play each other in the opening week. Now, they’re going to Seckman and Farmington, respectively.

St. Clair will celebrate its 50th season of football with a home game against Park Hills Central. That will be a good test for the Bulldogs, who potentially now could face that team in the postseason if both could somehow happen to make it past the district level.

St. Clair was one of the movers in the MSHSAA shell game when classes and districts were announced last Friday.

St. Clair and Washington moved down in the new classes while Sullivan moved up in football. New Haven also was boosted, but we’ll discuss that one a little later.

While teams moving down a class generally get a bounce in the first year or two after the change (see Washington soccer, Parkway Central basketball, etc.), there’s no guarantee it will be any easier. St. Clair’s district includes Cardinal Ritter, John Burroughs, Lutheran South and Miller Career Academy. Few schools have the championship tradition of the John Burroughs Bombers. Cardinal Ritter is highly regarded this season and has exciting new players. Miller Career Academy and Lutheran South have been successful in recent years.

Five area teams are in Class 4 District 5. They are Borgia, Pacific, Sullivan, Union and Washington. That’s more than last year’s Class 4 District 4. The other three teams are defending district champion Rolla and perennial state powers Helias and Camdenton. Expect two things from the district, some good competition and lots of travel because I would suspect Helias and Camdenton are going to finish pretty highly in the district standings.

Rolla’s conference schedule might keep the Bulldogs down in the standings a little bit. I know Rolla does have a decent number of players back from last year’s district championship team.

I know there are a lot of people who hope a Borgia-Washington playoff clash happens. This is the 40th anniversary of the famous playoff game between the schools and they haven’t played each other since 2007. The jamboree scrimmage between the two featured some pretty hard hitting. Seeing the teams playing each other with something on the line would be something certain to fill up the home team’s stadium.

As stated above, the school which probably lost the most is New Haven. All three of the New Haven fall sports teams were elevated from Class 1 to Class 2. That’s like going from being the big fish in the little pond to being a minnow in the ocean.

New Haven’s cross country teams were favorites to win the Class 1 state title. The boys were champions last year and the girls placed second. Both squads have a number of returning runners.

However, it’s going to be a different thing in Class 2. New Haven is still a state contender, but would be a longshot to win team titles. A lot is going to matter with how the runners step up.

New Haven’s volleyball team also is moving up this season. Combined with losing a number of outstanding athletes to graduation, the elevation is going to be a steep learning curve for the Lady Shamrocks. All of a sudden, thoughts of a possible trip to Cape Girardeau have been replaced with thoughts of making the district championship match.

New Haven has enjoyed a long rivalry with Hermann in the Four Rivers Conference. That’s going to get a bit more heated now as the two schools are in the same volleyball district.

One trend I’ve enjoyed seeing in recent years is the rise of the alumni/alumnae games in different sports. I spent the last two weekends covering the Union alumnae softball game and the East Central College alumnae volleyball event. Formats were a little different. Union had enough returners to have two teams with a machine handling the pitching duties.

The East Central event pitted the former players against this year’s team in a scrimmage format. At times, Lisa Mathes-Peters sent setters over to help run the offense for the alumnae squad.

During the summer, the Washington Post 218 American Legion baseball program held its second annual alumni game with two teams of former players facing off against each other.

In all instances, it was great to see the former players come back to have another turn in the spotlight. With so many teams, it’s tough to keep up with all of the athletes once they’ve graduated.

These alumni/alumnae events are a great way to catch up with yesterday’s standouts. I hope more teams can follow the example and start playing these types of games in the future.