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Headline: Summer Fun
By Steve Helwagen
(From Summer 2006 issue)
It is a schedule conflict that, at least for this year, was unavoidable.
High school football fans may need picture-in-picture on Sat., June 17, if they intend to watch both the Big 33 Football Classic and the Ohio North-South Classic.
For the 14th straight year, the Ohio High School Football Coaches Association will send an all-star team of graduating seniors to Hershey, Pa., to play a Pennsylvania team in the Big 33 game. For years, that game has been contested on the third Saturday in July.
But Big 33 officials moved their game up one month to the third Saturday in June – in direct conflict with the Ohio North-South Classic. The move was precipitated as more and more colleges have allowed incoming freshman football players to enroll during summer terms, making them ineligible for all-star games that begin once school commences.
As a result, these two all-star game traditions will be played at the same night at the same time, denying many of Ohio's best players the chance to play in both games as many have in recent years.
According to Bob Brigati, the North-South game director for the OHSFCA, this format will be a one-year experiment. Afterwards, members of the OHSFCA will decide their next course of action. That could include pulling out of the Big 33 or moving the North-South Classic.
To make this situation work this year, OHSFCA's designated coaching staffs met in December in Columbus to "draft" teams for the two games. The staffs from the North-South Classic each got to choose 22 players for their game before the Big 33 staff could select.
Accordingly, Big 33 organizers have made it clear that they do not intend to move forward with Ohio if the OHSFCA intends to send "also-ran" players to play in the Big 33.
Add it all up and you have quite a conundrum. As noted, the coaches association will entertain permanent solutions that will allow them to maintain their game – the nation's longest continuous high school football all-star game – and participate in the prestigious Big 33 game.
"We'll see," Brigati said. "With the NCAA changing the rules and allowing players to go in (for summer school) on scholarship, it has changed things. Our game was already June 17. The Big 33 game had to move to June 17 to accommodate the colleges. A number of our players are going on to colleges in the summer.
"In the past, the North and South staffs met separately and used nominations from the eight regions to make up their teams. The Big 33 staff also met separately. They could take players from both rosters for their game because it was always in July. This year, we met Dec. 30 and basically had a player draft."
In a talent-rich state like Ohio, Brigati feels there is enough talent to spread it around to both games.
"Ohio is big enough that we felt we had enough players to have three quality teams," he said. "We feel if you look at the rosters, they're pretty strong. We're taking this as a one-year thing. In the words of coach Clint Eastwood, ‘We'll adapt, we'll improvise, we'll overcome' the best we can and go from there."
Meanwhile, Big 33 executive director Mickey Minnich wants to keep Ohio in his game. But he recognizes that may not be possible.
"June 17 is the only date available unless they move a week earlier," Minnich said. "They graduate early in Ohio, at least most of the schools do. A lot of college kids have to report June 20 or June 22. This year, both games will be June 17. There are more than enough fans to do it.
"I've been a big advocate with Ohio. This is our 14th year with them coming up. They've won seven and we've won six. They have a big decision to make with their North-South game. It appears to us that their North-South game is number one with them."
In April, the board of directors of the OHSFCA met in Columbus and voted unanimously to stay with the Big 33. The board said it would meet after this year's games and try to work out a compromise on player selection for both games.
"The Ohio High School Football Coaches Association unanimously voted to continue its participation in the Big 33 all-star football game,'' said Steve Channell, coach at Edgewood High School, incoming president of the OHSFCA and Ohio coach in the 2005 Big 33 All-Star game. "We have enjoyed our relationship with Big 33 game officials, the host families and the entire Pennsylvania high-school football community. We've completely enjoyed the entire Big 33 experience and we look forward to continuing this tremendous high-school football tradition for many years to come."
The Ohio North-South Classic has never drawn 10,000 people in the five years since it moved from Stark County to Columbus Crew Stadium. Last year's game drew 5,250.
The Big 33 Football Classic typically draws between 15,000 and 20,000 fans and is regionally televised between the two states. Last year's game drew a crowd of 15,667 to Hersheypark Stadium. Moreover, the Big 33 and its sponsors have raised over $400,000 for scholarships for Ohio students.
"It really is a win-win for Ohio to be a part of our game," Minnich said.
Big 33 organizers introduced the Ohio team at a press conference in February. At that event, Ohio State coach Jim Tressel addressed the Ohio team and discussed participating in the Big 33 game.
"It's an unbelievable win-win-win situation," Tressel told the players. "Number one, you will find out the week you spend in Hershey will be something you will remember for the rest of your life. It is an all-star game unlike any other. You get to meet so many great young people like yourselves and they really roll out the red carpet. You will get to meet the family you are staying with.
"The other thing that is great is, through your efforts and the fact that everyone wants to come and see you play, the amount of money you help raise for scholarships. The number of people that have been helped over the years through your talent and notoriety and the funds that are raised and the lives that are touched – these are people you don't even know.
"The last thing is you spend a week in June competing. You're competing with the guys on your own team all week. Then, on game day, you are competing against the Pennsylvania team. It is tremendous competition and it will raise your level of competition. It is the closest thing you'll see to what you will find when you're competing in practice at the college level and in the Big Ten. That makes you better to go against the best," he said.
Here are details on both of these all-star games:
* The Ohio North-South Classic -- It will be contested 7 p.m. June 17 at Columbus Crew Stadium. The game, sponsored by Grange Insurance, has been contested there every year since 2001.
Bellaire head coach John Magistro will coach the South team. Some of his key players include Springboro tight end Jake Ballard (Ohio State signee), Cincinnati Colerain linebacker Tyler Moeller and offensive lineman Connor Smith (each Ohio State), West Chester Lakota West wide receiver Josh Chichester (Louisville), Columbus Brookhaven wide receiver Jeff Cumberland (Illinois) and Cincinnati Colerain linebacker Cobrani Mixon (Michigan).
Canal Fulton Northwest's Vic Whiting will coach the North squad. Notable players include Cleveland Glenville defensive end Robert Rose (Ohio State), Clyde defensive lineman Matt Guhn (Michigan), Canton McKinley wide receiver Joe Morgan (Illinois), Mentor Lake Catholic quarterback Rick Stanzi (Iowa) and Lakewood St. Edward offensive lineman Joe Thomas (Pittsburgh).
Several of the OSU signees ticketed to play in this game appeared at a press conference in Columbus in February.
"It will be a great experience," Rose said. "It will be just like playing in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl. I'll get to meet some new people. I see a few of the guys I already know like Joe Thomas and Connor Smith. I am excited to play with them."
Smith added, "I feel very honored to be selected with the best players in Ohio. I feel fortunate to play against a bunch of the state's best players."
Last year, the North squad prevailed 45-17 to widen its lead in the all-time series to 33-24-3.
The Ohio North-South Classic will be shown on tape delay on Fox Sports Net Ohio at 8 p.m. Thurs., June 22.
* Big 33 Football Classic -- The Big 33 game, in its 49th year, is set for 7 p.m., June 17, at Hersheypark Stadium. It is sponsored by PNC Bank.
Three Ohio State signees headline the Ohio Big 33 team, which will be coached by Louisville coach Paul Farrah. (Farrah is also the current president of the OHSFCA.)
The OSU signees are Euclid linebacker Thaddeus Gibson and Cleveland Glenville offensive lineman Bryant Browning and wide receiver Ray Small.
More notable Ohio team members include Copley running back (and Ohio Mr. Football award winner) Delone Carter (headed to Syracuse), Shaker Heights offensive lineman Dominic Alford (Minnesota), Warren JFK running back Anthony Elzy (North Carolina), Hilliard Davidson running back Christen Haywood (Kent State), Cincinnati Withrow linebacker Jamar Howard (Minnesota), Cincinnati Withrow defensive end Kallen Wade (Notre Dame), Cincinnati Withrow defensive back Robert Williams (West Virginia), Alliance wide receiver Troy Pascley (Louisville), Youngstown Mooney quarterback/wide receiver Derrell Johnson (undecided) and Canton GlenOak offensive lineman Ryan Palmer (Illinois).
The Ohio all-stars won last year's game 34-28 to edge ahead 7-6 in the series since it resumed in 1993.
The Big 33 will be televised live in Ohio by the Ohio News Network and in Pennsylvania by CN-8, among other outlets.