There are some places on earth that are special. It is hard to explain, but as you stand in those places you get a sense that you are now a part of something that transcends the ordinary.
It is the difference between looking at the ceiling of a church in Scranton, PA, and looking at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Both serve the same purpose, but the magnitude and beauty of the Sistine Chapel creates an indescribable sense of awe and emotion that resonates at your core. It is unparalleled in its splendor and cannot be equaled, no matter how often it is duplicated!
A trip to Napa Valley simply cannot compare to a tour of the Chianti region of Tuscany, and there is no place on earth where buffalo wings are better than the Anchor Bar in Buffalo!
The products of wine and wings are examples of what can be found around the world that just cannot compete with the quality (from experience) of the original. When speaking of high school football, there is no better place to be than at the game’s birthplace – Ohio!
Football, as we know it today, was born in Ohio. Much of the credit for the creation of the game we watch on Fridays, Saturdays, AND Sundays is owed to Paul Brown. He is universally recognized as the pioneer who modernized football, a process that began at Massillon Washington High School in Massillon, Ohio.
“What many people don’t realize,” said John Wolf, writer for MassillonProud.com, “is that Paul Brown didn’t just revolutionize the GAME of football, he actually created the entire spectacular [game] that is the football we know today.”
According to Wolf, Brown realized that a football game was intended to be entertainment for the fans. To help create that atmosphere of entertainment, Brown contacted Swing Band director George (Red) Bird, and together they formed the Massillon Tiger Swing Band, calling it, “The greatest show in high school football.” The band became the first ever marching band to support a football team.
Even the West Coast offense has its roots in Massillon. Bill Walsh, who was an assistant under Paul Brown in Cincinnati, perfected strategies learned from Brown that were first used to help him beat teams like the Steubenville Big Red – one of the first high school powerhouses in the state.
“Just about every aspect of the football game today was affected by Paul Brown,” said Wolf.
So remember, Georgia high school football fans, that when you are watching your favorite schools, bands, and all of their “traditions” you are ACTUALLY enjoying an Ohio tradition, and paying homage to Paul Brown and Ohio football!
From the towns of Mogadore and Pickerington, to the major cities of Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Columbus, high school football success means much more than simple bragging rights. The “legendary” Massillon-Canton McKinley rivalry is the perfect example. According to Wolf, the 117-year-old rivalry (which has been covered by Sports Illustrated and featured in Ken Carlson’s documentary film “Go Tigers!”) actually began as a dispute over which town should be named county seat. The bitter rivalry stemmed from a deep sense of civic pride by the residents in both cities, and it spilled out onto the football field. The greatest rivalry in high school football is merely a by-product of a much deeper running conflict that reflects the value and pride Ohio cities have for their teams.
JJ Huddle, the founder of JJ’s Huddle.com, adds that Ohio is unique because the size of the program has no bearing on the level of passion shared by the fans in towns both large and small.
“Passion for Division I schools exists at exactly the same level as the passion for Division VI schools,” JJ said. “The special thing that runs towards the little towns is that little Johnny who delivers your pizza is who you are cheering on the field. You aren’t just cheering for a school or a team, you are cheering for family and neighbors.”
It is a special camaraderie among every single community in the state that makes football a year-round sport.
“For 365 days a year, football is KING!” added JJ “If you need further proof of that passion, attend a Cincinnati Elder-Cincinnati St. Xavier game, which is played in front of more than 10,000 fans annually. Or visit Massillon on any given Friday night where the Tigers play in front of a WEEKLY crowd of more than 9,000 fans. For the Massillon-McKinley game, attendance has been as high as 32,000 fans (that is more than many COLLEGES), and averages between 15,000 and 20,000 fans! As a side note, the Massillon/McKinley game is also the only high school game that Vegas will accept wagers on!
From the invention of the game to today, Ohio has consistently fielded some of the best high school football teams in the nation.
The predominant region for high school football in the early to mid-1900s was Northeast Ohio. Schools like Massillon, Canton McKinley, and Steubenville were perennial state champions. That was also the time when Massillon, under head coach Paul Brown, first gained recognition on their way to NINE national football championships (a number still unmatched by any other school in the nation… so much for “Titletown!”).
According to Ryan Ernst, sports writer for the Cincinnati Enquirer, fans in Cincinnati will argue there were just as many dominant high school teams in their city as there were in Massillon, many of whom would have beaten those Massillon teams if they played each other. Beginning in 1972, they got their chance!
The Ohio High School Athletic Association (OHSAA) implemented a new playoff system that established a tournament for the best teams in the state to face off at the end of the season to declare a state champion. It was at that time that Cincinnati officially moved to the head of the class in high school football in the United States.
Once the playoff system was established, Cincinnati Moeller became the new team to beat. Unfortunately for other schools in the country, and as Ernst readily points out, Moeller was “unbeatable.” Between 1975 and 1985, Cincinnati Moeller won seven state championships, and was awarded five national championships. Cincinnati had become the new hotbed for high school football talent.
Following the dominance of Moeller in the 1970s and 1980s, a new era in high school football began, and it belonged to Cleveland St. Ignatius. Beginning in 1988, Ignatius would go on to win seven state championships over the next eight years, and was recognized as national champions three times during that same period.
What about the programs today?
While teams from Florida, California, and Texas have begun showing up more frequently in national championship conversations over the last 15 years, Ohio still maintains a very strong presence. Since the “Ignatius” years (ending in 1995), Ohio schools have still gone on to claim national championships in 1997 (Canton McKinley), and in 2007 (Cincinnati St. Xavier). In comparison, the last time a school from Georgia was named the national champions was in 1992.
With all of the great programs in Ohio, and all the history, there is OBVIOUSLY a great amount of talent that also comes from the state.
If you want to talk about the greatest to ever play the game of football, you need look no further than the Professional Football Hall of Fame (which is housed at Canton McKinley High School in Canton, Ohio, by the way) to see the litany of football LEGENDS from the Buckeye state. Of the 254 inductees in the hall, 22 are from the state of Ohio. The names on that list include coaches Paul Brown, Don Shula, and Chuck Noll, and players such as Roger Staubach, Paul Warfield, Larry Csonka, and Lou Groza. How many hall of famers hail from the Peach State? Only seven.
While the state of Georgia over the past 10 seasons may have a very slight edge over the state of Ohio in terms of the number of high school players which go on to the NFL (281 players from Georgia, compared to 231 from Ohio), history has proven that the quantity from Georgia clearly does not match the quality from Ohio!
I guess JJ Huddle summarized the argument best with the following statement: “The big five states that people talk about for high school football are Ohio, Texas, Florida, Pennsylvania, and California.” As for Georgia, JJ said, “Georgia is good, but not in the top five.”
Ohio has a rich high school football history, is home to the most dominant football programs of multiple eras, and continues to produce some of the finest talent that the game of football has ever seen. I can’t argue with JJ!