Ticket Sale, Gridiron Gang Start OHSAA Hype

The Ohio high school football finals' return to Columbus is still eight months away, but those in charge of running the event's much-discussed move to the capital city are already doing what they can to make sure it's a success, including fostering corporate support through the Gridiron Gang and orchestrating an early ticket sale.

For the first time since 1989, the Ohio High School Athletic Association will host its annual football state championship games in Ohio Stadium this fall.

The decision has not been received with 100 percent excitement.

It's not that many observers don't think Columbus will do a good job hosting the events, or that the state capital will have little interest in the seven games over three days that crown the champions of high school football in the Buckeye State.

No, the concern is that the cavernous Ohio Stadium, while certainly the biggest and most historic venue for football in the state, will feel empty for many of the contests, especially the smaller school games. Others are worried about moving the championships from Stark County, where Massillon and Canton hosted the annual event with welcome arms for the past two-plus decades.

To address those concerns, the Greater Columbus Sports Commission has put a plan in motion with the creation of the Gridiron Gang. The grouping of 50 local businesses and community ambassadors has made a pledge to support the games, including selling all-session ticket passes in an attempt to make sure the support is there when the 14 teams arrive during December's first weekend.

All-session tickets went on sale Monday through the Gridiron Gang, and so far, the corporate reaction has been favorable, GCSC board member and Gridiron Gang corporate chair Jon Bowsher said.

"I think most people, the question they have is, ‘Why wasn't it here to begin with?' " Bowsher saod. "We're really getting that excitement, and so it's kind of like, ‘Man, I can't believe it wasn't here to begin with, but now that it's back, it really needs to never go away, and what can we do to make that happen?'

"The exciting thing about it is there have been very few people that I've approached to be a member of the Gridiron Gang that have declined. It's overwhelming support for the people that want to be involved and want to support high school football in central Ohio."

The Gridiron Gang also has a powerful ally in Ohio State University Alumni Association president and CEO and two-time Heisman Trophy winner Archie Griffin, who is serving as its honorary chair.

"I think people are excited," Griffin told BSB. "We've met with some groups that are part of the Gridiron Gang and they were excited and willing to help make the whole event a success, which I think it's going to be. I am really appreciative of the work that the Columbus Sports Commission is putting into making this happen and the Ohio State University as well."

Bowsher, who played prep football at Gahanna Lincoln just outside Columbus and was a state semifinalist during his career, thinks the move – which is being made on a two-year basis, at which point the bids will reopen – will allow teams a better chance at playing in front of bigger crowds during the state finals, especially considering almost no point in Ohio is more than 2½ hours away from the capital city.

"I had an opportunity to play deep into the playoffs when I was a high school kid in Ohio, and most of those schools are going to have a better chance of getting a good turnout in central Ohio than they would really any other place in the state," Bowsher said. "It's going to be that centralized point where most schools will have a better representation.

"The schools are going to travel better here, No. 1, but then there's going to be this guaranteed ticket sale that business leaders are going to step up and help support. It absolutely is going to fill some seats to supplement what the schools themselves will bring. That's an exciting piece of it. Most of these kids will never get to be in front of as many people as they'll be able to play in front of in this game. I think the business leaders in Columbus want to support that feeling for them."

The central location of Columbus is also a draw to Griffin, who has long thought that the trek to northeast Ohio was disadvantageous to Cincinnati schools.

"For the longest time, I've thought the right place for the Ohio high school football championships belonged right here in Columbus," Griffin said. "That in itself made me want to be involved with that. Columbus is centrally located. I've always felt that schools more south of Columbus were at a disadvantage when it came to the state championships, having to go that far to travel to play those games.

"That's no knock on Massillon or Canton because they always did a great job, but when you think of Ohio football, you think of Ohio Stadium."

All-session tickets for the games to be held Dec. 4-6 are on now sale for $105 and will be in a priority seating location available before single-game tickets go on sale to the general public in October. To purchase, contact Brian Timm at btimm@columbussports.org or visit http://go.osu.edu/OHSAAFBTix and use the promo code GRID1.

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