Rogers, Over and Out: Ohio’s best rivalry? There’s only one choice.

Rogers, Over and Out

By Tim Rogers

Massillon-McKinley is on another level

CANTON: Pro Cuts Barber and Styling shop sits on Fulton Road, just a couple of sustained drives west of Fawcett Stadium.

Proprietor Jon Farley is a 1996 graduate of Canton McKinley, following employees Jeff Eneix (1994) and Brian West (1990).

When Eneix interviewed for the job at Pro Cuts about seven years ago he told Farley that he was willing to work whenever needed. With one exception.

“I told Jon that there was only one day that I absolutely had to have off,” said Eneix. “It was the day of the McKinley-Massillon game. I just couldn’t miss it, even though it’s always on a Saturday, a busy day around here. Thanks to Jon, I haven’t missed.”

McKinley and Massillon will play for the 124th time at 2 p.m. on Saturday, this time in venerable Fawcett. A crowd in excess of 16,000 is expected to watch the 2013 edition of the greatest high school football rivalry in Ohio.

JJH_RogersStarting at the age of 14, Eneix and best friend Donny Howell have attended the last 23 games in the series that dates to 1894. This is not an unusual circumstance for fans in either city.

While not as fervent a fan as Eneix, Farley realizes the significance of the 10th week of the high school football season. A “Beat Massillon” sign hangs on his shop’s front door and there is another inside, taped to the mirror that extends the length of the room.

Close to the cash register sits the “squares game” at $5 per square. Each of the 100 squares will be filled well before Saturday’s 2 p.m. kickoff.

Normal closing time on Saturdays at Pro Cuts is 4:30 p.m. As he has done every other year since buying the shop in 2006, Farley will shut the doors at noon this Saturday. It’s a way of life in Stark County.

“We wouldn’t get any business anyhow,” Farley explains. “Our parking lot starts filling up around 8 in the morning and our customers wouldn’t be able to get in.”

The best high school football rivalry in Ohio – and probably beyond – is Canton McKinley vs. Massillon.

Nothing else is close. Not St. Ignatius vs. St. Edward, not Youngstown Cardinal Mooney vs. Ursuline or Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary vs. Archbishop Hoban. Piqua-Troy, Coldwater-St. Henry, Dover-New Philly, Columbus DeSales-Watterson or Cincy Xavier-Colerain don’t fill the bill, either.

Many Clevelanders suffer from a severe case of provincialism. Many of them feel that Northeast Ohio ends southward at the Summit County line. I know. I spent the first 44 years of my life there and still have many ties to Cleveland and the cities located in the counties surrounding Cuyahoga County.

Those other rivalries, spirited in their own right, are all runnersup to the claim, playing for second place as it were. There is nothing like McKinley-Massillon. All others are the junior varsity of high school rivalries. McKinley-Massillon is the Super Bowl.

Some of the other acknowledged rivalries closer to Lake Erie – i.e., Copley vs. Revere, Brunswick vs. Strongsville, Kenston vs. Chagrin Falls, Willoughby South vs. Eastlake North, Avon Lake vs. Avon, Kirtland vs. Cuyahoga Heights are all, well, quaint.

In Canton, this week is known simply as Massillon week. Massillon fans call this McKinley week. Signs and banners adorn store fronts in both cities. In Massillon, a “Beat McKinley” banner stretches the width of Lincoln Way, the city’s main thoroughfare. Players’ pictures hang high from street lights. The “Massillon Independent” published a 20-page special section on Tuesday, the same day former coach Earle Bruce (20-0 in two seasons) addressed the Massillon Touchdown Club.

School officials confirmed that you can get line in Las Vegas if so inclined. The game is a conclusion of a week filled with breakfasts, luncheons, dinners, prayer meetings, parades through respective city streets, pep rallies and a gigantic bonfire.

The Massillon cheerleaders will visit area nursing homes to lift the spirits of the residents. The schools stage a week-long Blood Battle to see which can raise the most blood for the Red Cross. At the same time, a Food Fight is held with everything being donated to the Stark County Hunger Task Force. Kegs and Eggs events are as routine as Halloween pumpkins on doorsteps.

I began attending high school football games when I was in the fifth grade. I grew up two blocks from West Tech field, the only school on Cleveland’s west side equipped with lights. It was the home field for just about every school in the old West Senate and it would host three games a weekend.

We would find ways to sneak into games on Friday and Saturday, using daring maneuvers to outrun the cops until we were able to disappear under the sanctity of the visiting bleachers. Doubleheader Saturdays were a real challenge without the cover of darkness. But, that’s a story for another time.

St. Ignatius vs. Benedictine or Cathedral Latin were my introductions to rivalries and they were great games. The teams were better, the crowds were larger and more enthusiastic and the uniforms were cooler. Even today, the Ignatius blue and gold – plain and clean – remains my favorite. (I cringed when the school added the wildcat paw print on the helmet, but I’ve come to accept it.)

There was nothing like watching St. Ignatius play Benedictine (or Cathedral Latin) in Cleveland Stadium on Thanksgiving Day morning in what was the Senate Championship game and billed as the Charity Game. It was special and I thought those were the biggest and best rivalries around.

Many years ago I was introduced to McKinley vs. Massillon. The rivalry is simply not one school against another. Nor is it one neighborhood against another, one community against another.
It has escalated into one city against the other. While Canton is more than twice the size of its rival, you won’t find one Cantonian who doubts the spirit of its smaller neighbor.

“I’d rather see the Pups go 1-9 with that lone win being against Massillon than have them go 9-1 and lose to Massillon,” said Eneix. That might not be the ideal situation, but you get the point.

The rivalry is so vastly intense to any other that it can’t be challenged. For years I tried to explain it to all the diehards up north. I tried to tell them that I have attended more Ignatius-St. Ed’s games than McKinley-Massillon. I’ve been to Brunswick-Strongsville, SVSM vs. Hoban, etc. There simply is no comparison.

You can’t possibly understand the depths of McKinley-Massillon until you have witnessed it. It is a spectacle, a happening. This is not 10,000 fans cramming into and surrounding Lakewood Stadium. This is nearly 20,000 filling two of the finest high school football facilities in the state.

Reading about it or watching it on television doesn’t suffice.

“I don’t think I can tell you what it’s like,” said Massillon assistant athletic director Brian Pachis, who played in two Massillon-McKinley games. “All I know is that I will never forget it. I’ll never forget the feeling. It was just incredible.”

Mike Cooper is a 1984 graduate of McKinley. He had the misfortune of playing in two losses to the Tigers but relishes the opportunity to this day. Even though he has relocated to Avon, a charming suburb between Cleveland and Lorain, his ties to McKinley remain as strong as if he had never left.

“The feeling (of losing) never leaves you,” said Cooper, who now lives in Avon, a suburb between Cleveland and Lorain. “Never. When I was a kid I would have preferred playing in that game over celebrating Christmas or my birthday. I just can’t think of anything better than playing in that game.”

The Massillon-McKinley game has added the Ohio’s high school football lore. Paul Brown, Marion Motley, Lin Houston, Don Nehlen, Ben Schwartzwalder, Chris Spielman, Lee Tressel and Thom McDaniels are just a handful of those who either coached or played in the game.

No other rivalry can make that claim.

______________________

Tim Rogers has covered prep sports for four decades, spending most of that time as a self-described “newspaper” man in Northeast Ohio. Today Mr. Rogers goes digital. JJHuddle.com is proud to announce a new weekly column by Rogers that will appear every Wednesday. The topic? Anything high school related. The writer? One of Ohio’s best at covering preps. Today we welcome Tim to the line up.

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