With the high school football playoffs right around the corner, It only seems fitting to discuss a state with one of the longest and richest traditions in the sport. The state I wanna talk about in this story is Ohio. It’s been referred to as the Buckeye State by people who live in Ohio, but the epic games and memorable moments go far beyond the college gridiron.
Long before a football standout can make a mark in college, Some of their earliest pigskin memories are made on the high school level under the bright Friday night lights. But to appreciate the history and tradition of the high school football playoffs in Ohio It’s important to know of the infancy of them. Like with any good story it takes a lot of research and fact-finding and this one is no exception.
For this story, it seems most appropriate to remember the time of the pre-poll era. The Associated Press has named state football champions since 1947 and the Ohio High School Athletic Association conducted the first football playoffs in 1972. Until now, however, the year-by-year state football champions before 1947 had not been published in one place. You can find an explanation and list of state champions on the OHSAA website due to the work of OHSAA historian Timothy Hudak, who combined his research with that of several other historians. If you research that you’ll also find information regarding the popular acclaim era. That era lasted from 1895-1946. There were no polls, and certainly no statewide playoffs, in the earliest days of Ohio high school football. If a sportswriter, newspaper or a group of them said that a team was the state champion, then that team usually was unless someone came along to challenge it. Quite often, too, a school that felt that its team was the “King of the Hill” invited any team from around the state that wished to challenge it on the gridiron for the state championship. This quite often resulted in some exciting last minute, end of the season games to settle the issue of who was the state’s champion that year. This system of a popularly declared state football champion remained in effect until the era of the AP and UPI polls, which began in 1947. You can find a list of state champions from 1895-1946 also on the OHSAA website. Furthermore, the best teams and state champions in Buckeyeland haven’t always been clear or undisputed but the talent on Ohio Based teams and passion of the fan bases cannot be denied.
Whether you see it on display in Kenneth A. Carlson’s award-nominated documentary Go Tigers! wherein the opening moments of the film’s Trailer states that highschool football eventually became an obsession and that in Massillon Ohio pro football was born and high school football rules. Or as a spectator and/or player with the Steubenville Big Red watching that red horse breathe fire during the home games! Or as exclusively a player with a prestigious football program like Archbishop Moeller of Cincinnati and their two most noteworthy NFL Alums Greg Jones who played linebacker for the New York Giants of 2011 and Bob Crable also a linebacker for the New York Jets from 1982-1987.
Sure, all of this doesn’t mean that all high school football teams in Ohio don’t have their ups and downs. Remember, only the top eight teams in each region make the playoffs, 256 total, with the top 4 teams in the region getting home games. On top of all that, when the playoffs began, there were three classes: AAA for larger populated schools, mid-sized schools in Class AA and small schools in Class A. Just 12 teams were vying for 3 titles in two weeks. OHSAA officials at the time did not want a long postseason so as not to collide with winter sports and risking bad weather conditions as well. You can find that info and more at beaconjournal.com.
Regardless of all that, Ohio has remained a football-crazed state on various levels throughout history and today and it should once again be a true thrill to see how the rest of the action in 2019 plays out!
Story by YSN’s Scotty Mincher