Kudos to the Ohio High School Athletic Association for allowing the state's
high school football tournament to remain in Stark County for now, where it
I realize that decision is not a popular one for many fans in southern and even central Ohio, but by the way that the Elder contingent from Cincinnati, for example, represented their school and their region in the Division I state final game, you would never know it. For the second year in a row now, there was a sea of purple nearly engulfing three sides of Fawcett Stadium in Canton, the birthplace of football and the home of the NFL Hall of Fame.
It's the grandest possible stage to play a high school championship football game in, in a stadium that reeks of a rich history of football in Ohio. I certainly don't need to cite a litany of reasons why the biggest football games in the state of Ohio should be played where they're currently at (Division I game is played at Fawcett every year), the people hosting the tournaments in Canton and in neighboring Massillon do such a wonderful job of showcasing that every year.
Yes Massillon, the home of Chris Spielman and the Washington High School Tigers. A guy named Paul Brown has a stadium named after him there. Earle Bruce once roamed those same sidelines. It's the more intimate of the two settings of which each site plays host to three games over two days on an alternative basis.
Just the fact that those two programs can put aside the more than 100 years of the animosity that they feel toward each other during the football season and co-host such an event speaks volumes of the effort that is being made to make Ohio's state football tournament as good as it can possibly be.
High school kids from all across our great state should aspire to playing at one of these two prestigious venues. The young men from Versailles High School certainly did.
The Tigers, who hail from a city of the same name in western Ohio near the Dayton area, completed an undefeated season with an impressive 26-0 victory over Villa Angela-St. Joseph from Cleveland to win the Division IV crown at Massillon's Paul Brown Tiger Stadium. And after listening to senior captain Ryan McNeilan talk about a summer journey that him and some of his teammates went on, it was easy to understand why they were there and why they won it.
Ryan McNeilan runs hard in the D-IV final
"Right before we did anything this year, we were in a couple of conditioners
and we took a trip down here, all of the seniors, and visited the stadium and
all of the facilities here and it gave us a chance to bond," McNeilan said.
"All of us seniors are a very tight group and we all hang out all of the
time and play cards. Every free time that we have we're together really and it
carries over on to the field and everyone has everyone else's back. It's huge. I
think that played the biggest part."
And when all of their thoughts and dreams finally came to fruition?
"It's the greatest feeling that I've ever felt in my entire life to tell you the truth," McNeilan said. "You put in so much time and you finally get here. Last week we were just standing there and thinking, ‘Now we have one more game,' and we kind of had a rallying cry of, ‘One more goal!' And we came out and we finally did it and it's an unexplainable feeling."
I certainly can't speak for the guys from Versailles but I'm not sure their preseason dreams of playing in Columbus' Crew Stadium, a professional soccer facility, or Dublin's Coffman Stadium provide nearly the same inspiration for success as the trek to Massillon did. I'm not even sure that they even take that same preseason trip to either of those two places.
Arguably there are not two finer facilities in all of Ohio more capable and worthy of hosting such a prestigious tournament weekend, than those in Canton and Massillon. Just seven miles apart from parking lot to parking lot, the proximity of the two stadiums and the fact that both fields have an artificial surface are just an added bonus. And the volunteers behind the scenes, who are proud to play host to the tournament, are what really make the event a huge success.
Obviously the OHSAA understood the main issues when it came down to it. The pressure from those in the south and central regions of Ohio to move the games to a more centrally located area of the state had to be nearly overwhelming. But the voting body stood tall.
If you haven't experienced any part of a tournament weekend in Stark County, you really have no idea of what you're missing. Football takes the center stage there and that's how it should be. And a trip to the Hall of Fame should be on any football fan's list of things to do.
Next year, make it a destination. See for yourself why some of the high school teams in Ohio, like Versailles, aspire to making it to Canton and Massillon to play in and win a state championship game.