Big 33 Ohio Rivalry in Danger

We have comments from Big 33 executive director Mickey Minnich on the future of his game and the possibility that the current rivalry between Ohio and Pennsylvania could end after this year's game due to a scheduling conflict. We also look at the Ohio Big 33 roster and also provide an opinion on a solution to this situation.

Ohio has sent a team of its best high school football talent to Pennsylvania for the past 13 years to participate in the Big 33 Football Classic.

But that rivalry is in jeopardy, according to Big 33 executive director Mickey Minnich.

Minnich was in Columbus last week for the official announcement of the Ohio all-star team that will play a Pennsylvania squad in the Big 33 game, set for June 17 in Hershey, Pa.

The problem arises because of a conflict between the Big 33 game and the Ohio North-South Classic, which will be played on the same night. Big 33 officials moved their game from its traditional perch in late July to the third weekend in June so that college-bound athletes who intend to enroll for summer school – which usually begins in late June – would be able to still play in the Big 33.

"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."

Some Ohio schools do have graduation into the second week of June, and the OHSAA state track meet will run through June 10 as well.

Officials from the Big 33 and the Ohio High School Football Coaches Association agreed to a one-year renewal of their contract for this year to study the situation. In the meantime, the OHSFCA kept its North-South Classic on its standard date, the third Saturday in June (June 17), and also conducted a draft in December where the coaches for the North and South teams in that game got to make as many as 44 selections between them before a single player was selected for the Big 33 roster.

Minnich says the rivalry with Ohio can not continue if the Ohio coaches do not agree to send their best players to play in the Big 33.

"I've been a big advocate with Ohio," Minnich said. "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.

"This could be the last year that we play with Ohio. But, with me, I am hoping that they will say, ‘Let's pick our top 34 for the Big 33 and then play North-South.' They have 150 Division I-A athletes in the state."

This is not the first time the Big 33 has had to change its game date to accommodate colleges.

"It used to be the first weekend in August," Minnich said. "So then, the freshman started reporting July 31 and we had to move it to July. We loved being in July. Now, we only have one weekend to play the game. So you look at it with a good attitude and weigh all of your options.

"We're trying to have different clinics and people coming to Hershey because it is important that we pack that stadium."

Minnich noted that he and his staff are already looking for alternatives if the rivalry with Ohio can not continue.

"We're looking at Michigan, New Jersey, Maryland and Virginia," Minnich said. "That just breaks my heart because we love Ohio. But Ohio loves North-South."

At face value, the numbers would seem to favor staying with the Big 33 and somehow moving the North-South Classic (see editorial below).

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.

But the OHSFCA closely guards its own North-South Classic, which in its 61st year is the nation's longest running high school football all-star game.

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.

The 2006 Ohio Big 33 Team

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 Big 33 will be televised in Ohio by the Ohio News Network and in Pennsylvania by CN-8, among other outlets.

Here is a look at the roster for the 2006 Ohio Big 33 team:

Mike Scherpenberg QB Indian Hill
Delone Carter RB Copley
Jamar Howard WR Cin. Withrow
Drew Kuhn WR Louisville
Richard Sandilands WR New Philadelphia
Troy Pascley WR Alliance
Bryant Browning OL Cleve. Glenville
Chris Condemi OL Findlay
Dominic Alford OL Shaker Heights
Ryan Palmer OL Canton GlenOak
Zach Pridemore OL Carrollton
Thaddeus Gibson DL Euclid
Brad Stetler DL Dublin Scioto
Torrance Nicholson DL Cols. Marion-Franklin
D.J. Burris DL Kenton
Kallen Wade DL Cin. Withrow
Austin Power LB Louisville
Kyle Banna LB Canfield
Ray Small DB Cleve. Glenville
Kyle Endicott DB Olentangy Liberty
Robert Williams DB Cin. Withrow
Troy Ellis DB Massillon Washington
Levi George OL Warren Harding
David Brewer K Dublin Scioto
Ted Schaible DL Cin. Roger Bacon
Derrell Johnson LB Youngs. Mooney
Anthony Elzy RB Warren JFK
Anthony Oliver DL Toledo Central Catholic
Corey Leggett WR Carrollton
Christen Haywood RB Hilliard Davidson
Zach Slagle OL Canton McKinley
Brad Brookbank DB Cin. St. Xavier
Paul Rice LB University School
Jason Donnal DL Olentangy

A Possible Solution

The following is reprinted from the Jan. 25, 2006, edition of The Buckeye Grove. It contains what this writer believes could be a workable solution to the all-star game scheduling conflict – that is, if the leadership of the OHSFCA wants to try and work something out to stay in both games.

Here it is:

We are six months away from the two big high school football all-star games as both the Ohio North-South Classic and the Big 33 Football Classic will be held on Sat., June 17.

The Big 33 was moved from its traditional July date to June so it could include players in both Ohio and Pennsylvania who plan to enroll for summer school at their college of choice.

But this creates a natural conflict between these two games. For at least this year, the North-South Classic and Big 33 games will be staged on the same date. That has caused the Ohio coaches association to pick three different teams – the North and South for the Ohio game and the Big 33 team to represent Ohio.

Several OSU verbals who plan on enrolling for spring football – Chris Wells, Ross Homan and Kurt Coleman – will not play in either game.

The South squad for the North-South game will be coached by Bellaire's John Magistro. OSU verbals on that team include Jake Ballard, Tyler Moeller and Connor Smith.

The North squad will be coached by Canal Fulton Northwest's Vic Whiting. The only OSU verbal on that team is Cleveland Glenville's Robert Rose.

The Ohio Big 33 roster includes Glenville's Bryant Browning and Ray Small, Euclid's Thaddeus Gibson and Mooney's Derrell Johnson.

The politics of this whole situation are unusual to say the least. There has been no indication whether one of these games will be played in the late afternoon to avoid a direct conflict. (Both, it was later learned, will be played at 7 p.m.)

I suggested months ago that the Ohio association might want to consider moving its game to another date. They do claim to have the nation's longest running all-star game and they do not want to ruin that tradition.

But it isn't like the game has thrived since its move to Columbus Crew Stadium a few years ago. It has only drawn crowds in the 5,000 range. My suggestion would be to move the Ohio game to late March or April – on a weekend after basketball is over and before baseball and track fire up – and play it then.

Maybe they could play it on the Friday night before the OSU spring game, when they would be guaranteed statewide media coverage.

Student-athletes miss class time in basketball to participate in AAU events and the midweek McDonald's All-American game each year. I don't see how a few days off to practice to play in this game would be such a bad thing, particularly if the coaches association sells it the right way.

The Ohio coaches association had two pretty good events before. Now, going head to head for viewers and players, you wonder if Ohio's future in the Big 33 is in serious doubt. After all, how long will they put up with having only one-third of Ohio's best players?

The Ohio North-South game may also go well on the Sunday after the OSU spring game – when you know most of the state's media will already be in attendance anyway.

Here's how they prepare the teams: If the game is set for, say, Sun., April 22, this year, you have a Saturday/Sunday introduction April 7-8. Then, the weekend before the game, you bring everybody in on Friday (April 13) and have practice that night after school as well as Saturday and Sunday (April 14-15).

Everybody returns home for three days of school, then reports back for an evening practice session on Wed., April 18 as well as three more day practices on April 19-21, leading up to the game on April 22. That's still seven practices and a couple of introductory days.

I know this is a matter of pride for the Ohio coaches to have the tradition with their game. But I'd suggest that they may want to swallow their pride and begin a new tradition with a springtime Ohio all-star game.

I know my solution is not optimum given what's happened in recent years. But you keep the Ohio game alive and stay in the Big 33. The kids miss two days of school.


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