Ohio Stadium To Host State Football Finals

The Ohio High School Athletic Association split the difference Wednesday afternoon, choosing to award the state's prep football championships to both bidding finalists. Stark County will continue to host the two-day event through 2013, after which Columbus and Ohio Stadium will take over for the 2014 and '15 seasons. BuckeyeSports.com has reaction.

The draw of playing its biggest championship in a historic and beloved venue proved too strong for the Ohio High School Athletic Association to ignore.

Columbus' bid to host the Ohio state prep football championships in Ohio Stadium proved successful Wednesday when the OHSAA voted to award the event to the state capital in 2014 and '15.

Until then, the event's 20-year home of Stark County cities Massillon and Canton, which already had a contract to host the games through 2011, will continue in 2012 and '13.

The fact that the OHSAA chose to award the event to two locales over four years instead of one city over three – as the original bids were for – was a testament to the quality of the proposals, body president Dan Ross acknowledged.

"If both of them are so good, why do we have to tell one of them no?" he said. "So what about trying to put them together?"

The crown jewel of the Greater Columbus Sports Commission's bid was the Horseshoe, which hosted the event from 1982-89. Converted in 2007 to a FieldTurf surface that can handle the pounding of six games in two days, Ohio Stadium held a major sway over the OHSAA after the venue was not part of the GCSC's earlier attempt to lure the championships.

"I think it makes a difference," Ross said. "Young people are going to have the opportunity to play in Ohio Stadium, coaches are going to have an ability to coach in Ohio Stadium, officials are going to have an ability to officiate in Ohio Stadium and fans that sometimes can't afford maybe or can't have access to tickets to go to Ohio Stadium will have the opportunity to make that an experience.

"I think that adding that to the list makes it very, very attractive for young people. I think when you put all three of (the stadiums together), who wouldn't want to play in any of the three? I think that we've added a venue to make this an even better experience."

Another added factor in the GCSC bid was support from Ohio State. Buckeye head coach Jim Tressel has pushed for the event to be moved to Columbus for years, and he along with numerous OSU and Columbus dignitaries – including athletic director Gene Smith – were at the Buckeyes' home field June 8 when the OHSAA site bid committee toured the capital.

"We were able to put together a great package and utilize the strength of that stadium and what it means to all of Ohio," GCSC executive director Linda Logan said. "It was really big for us."

Tressel, predictably, was enthused.

"The news that the OHSAA football championships will be coming to Ohio Stadium is so exciting for the coaches, fans, bands and players in the state of Ohio," he said. "Lifetime memories will be made."

On the other side of the coin is the fact that the cavernous venue – which holds more than 102,000 fans – will be largely empty for the six games. Last year's Division I final between state champion Hilliard Davidson and powerful Cleveland Glenville in Canton's Fawcett Stadium drew 9,845 fans, while the Division VI final won by Norwalk St. Paul over Delphos St. John's drew 5,850 in Massillon Paul Brown Tiger Stadium.

Logan said the setup in Ohio Stadium will draw upon some lessons learned through the Kirk Herbstreit Varsity Football Series when it comes to placing fans in the stands, and she added her body will do its best to build the crowds for championship weekend.

"I think we did a really good job of scaling the ticket proposal of where the student sections will be, where the corporate partners would be. We really want to create some enthusiasm so we gave a lot of thought to the ticket plan," she said. "We really want to challenge our own group to harness that excitement that we have right now and keep it and really raise it within the next four years."

The championships are projected to bring at least $5 million into the Columbus economy, money leaving Stark County. Ross added that while the northeast Ohio venue has supported the event well, his group ended up seeing fit to reward Columbus for its proposal.

"They have done a marvelous job, and I guess our feel with that is the addition of Columbus helps make what we do better," Ross said. "It's not to take anything away from Stark County, it's to add to the experiences that we have and make what we do better.

"It's a partnership that we all work hard to make what happens for kids better."

Ross also said that the bid may be reopened near the conclusion of this deal or the rotation between the two cities may be continued.

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