Canvasing the crowd(s) that attended this weekend’s state football tournament at Ohio State, their responses to questions painted the picture that may indicate an uncertain future for high school football as we’ve known it. Time will tell, perhaps. But time is what some say they can least afford.
My final thoughts on the high school football tournament for 2016 are very reminiscent of the column I published back during two-a-days camp over the rich getting richer, while the poor, or the ‘have nots’, continue to struggle in their quest to make high school football not just a tradition…but a reality.
It was easy to find people from nearly every community represented at this weekend’s event that were willing to share an opinion on football. Many, I found, were even familiar with Press Pros Magazine.
And in fact, if you look at the outcomes of this year’s championships familiar faces from years past were again seen on the top of the award stand.
LaSalle, a GCL team out of Cincinnati, won its third consecutive title in Division II.
Hartley, a parochial school out of Columbus, won its second consecutive title in Division IV.
Akron Hoban, another parochial out of northeast Ohio, won its title in Division III, a repeat of 2015.
And St. Xavier, in Division I, out of Cincinnati, won just its third title, but it defeated St. Ignatius from Cleveland, who has won eleven times, including five in a row in the early 90s.
Of course, there were those who fumed when we asked their opinion on the outcomes, with the age-old cry that the privates and the public schools have no business competing for the same title. And in one case a fan from Cuyahoga Heights actually mistook Marion Local, which won its ninth title, as another private Catholic school. When told that the Flyers came from a small public district and a farming community in west-central Ohio (albeit with a high percentage of Catholics), he shrugged and moved on without further comment.
But a man from Dayton watching Trotwood did more than shrug when asked about the tournament, given the Rams were involved in the one lone blowout of the tournament, a 30-0 shutout at the hands of Hoban.
“Mind sharing your thoughts?” I asked.
“Hell yes, I’ll share my thoughts,” he said. “There’s no way in the world we should be playing a team with all the advantages that that team has. Trotwood kids have to struggle to play football, some even to afford shoes. You look over there,” motioning to the other side of the field. “You know how it is. Those people have it all, now. We can’t even catch a break for playing hard.”
Trotwood was penalized three times in the first quarter for personal fouls and unsportsmanlike conduct.
It is ironic that of the seven titles handed out this weekend, Marion Local was the only public to win. I originally wrote that John F. Kennedy was public, but no, JFK is also parochial. And watching as one without a rooting interest, I’m saying that it had nothing to do with Catholicism. But the man from Trotwood was surely onto something when spoke that communities with means to pay for it have an easier path towards winning football…if that’s their goal.
“Pay to play has really hurt football in some of our communities,” shared a writer from Columbus covering the tournament. “Families don’t have $500 to shell out for football, so it’s either a perpetual fund-raising effort or kids don’t play.”
And then there was opinion shared on whether safety in football, and concern for head injuries, has weakened the field.
“I think there’s a greater awareness of it,” said a follower of the St. X Blue Bombers. “But head injuries are a risk with any sport you play. Actually, I have more concern over concussions with the soccer than football.”
Of even greater concern was the time commitment necessary for a youngster to play if it comes down to football or paying for cars, gas, and cell phones.
“You really can’t play football and have a job, so my own son chose not to play football after his sophomore year,” said a dad from Dublin. “Football’s a twelve-month commitment at our school if you want to play. And if you do play there’s not much time left for anything else.”
As for the tournament itself, the games were competitive, exciting, and charming with the atmosphere of one of the five best football stadiums in the country.
Of particular note in terms of rooting interest were the adoptive fans from St. Marys who made the trip with their oversized cowbells to support Trotwood, who beat their St. Marys team in week two of the playoffs.
Urban Meyer was seen taking a victory lap around the sidelines on Saturday, pausing for ‘selfies’ with those who asked.
And the tournament returns to Canton next year (for the next two years) and there was split sentiment on even that.
“There’s no way they should take it out of Columbus and Ohio State,” said a man from Coldwater. “This is more convenient and every football player in the state would rather play here than in Canton.”
But a fan from Orrville, Ohio had another idea.
“It’s farther to drive for some to get to Canton,” he said. “But once you get there it’s a better football experience with the Hall of Fame next door…and it’s cheaper. Canton is a blue collar town with some sense about the cost of a hotdog.
And finally, we were pleasantly surprised at the growing number of people who recognized Press Pros and were kind to compliment our coverage and commitment to local sports in our local market and across the state.
“I love how opinionated you guys are,” said one from Columbus who reads our state tournament coverage. “Don’t agree with you all the time, but read it anyway. You should come to Columbus.” Someday, perhaps.
“Thanks for doing what you do,” said another. “And I agree that baseball should be played in better weather. Excellent idea.”
“I like that you have a lot of photos on your site,” said an obvious mom from Minster. “I hope you’ll post a lot of them from the tournament and the three teams from the MAC.”
Well, we can’t do much about the cost of football; or the economic disparities between communities. But we can certainly share more ‘pics’ from this weekend’s tournament – our last word on high school football for 2016. Thanks again for your support.