Thursday, August 30, 2012

Haves and Have-Nots of HS Football

By Kevin Beane

Even with college football just around the corner, I still need a fix all throughout the summer. I've written extensively about the CFL in bridging the gap, but still I was happy when high school football rolled around last week, with lots on national television with college football still a week away.

One matchup that caught my eye was Joliet Catholic vs. Providence Catholic on ESPNU. Joliet Catholic was a name that rang a bell for me, and that's because my former coworker Tom was a rabid fan of that, his alma mater. I remember him directing me to vote for Joliet Catholic on a radio poll for most popular Chicago area high school or something like that. I'm always happy to help friends stuff the ballot box in elections where I otherwise have no partiality.

So good, I thought, I actually have a reason not only to watch football, but to root for one of the teams. On Facebook, I congratulated Tom on his team's appearance on national television, and he responded, "This surely merits coverage from the Slant Pattern's star reporter." And here we are.

The night before, however, I got an even bigger surprise: Another high school football game, this featuring a high school from Akron, my home town, on FOX Sports Ohio … as well as FOX Sports Atlantic, and a number of other FOX Sports regional networks such as FOX Sports Southwest, where I would be able to watch in Dallas on tape delay.

I'm guessing this is the first time an Akron public high school has been featured in any sports on (sort of) national television. LeBron James is from Akron of course, and his high school games were on ESPN, but he went to a private school, St. Vincent-St. Mary.

The public schools of Akron are where I matriculated, and they are in a permanent state of economic woe. The seven public high schools in Akron compete in a conference called The City Series. Only three of those high schools have football fields, so all seven teams toggle their games between those three stadia, and the University of Akron's InfoCision Stadium. My high school, North, is not one of the ones with a stadium. That means all of our games, and it has been this way for decades, are either on a neutral field or on the road. All of our non-conference games are on the road.

In football, North was mediocre when I was a student, and is terrible now, with one win in the last two seasons. Needless to say, mine was not the school on quasi-national television. That would be Buchtel, the one school that despite being probably the one with the poorest student body, is consistently City Series Champions with occasional deep forays into the state playoffs (last time being in 2010, when they lost the state championship game).

I hasten to point out that Buchtel is pronounced BOOK-təl, not BUCK-təl, because every single announcer who mentions the school (happens more often than you think, because they send a lot of kids to FBS schools) mispronounces it, and it drives me nuts.

Buchtel is a school with a great deal of history, not just in football, but in the history of my city — the University of Akron was originally Buchtel College. As a winning football team, they are the only City Series school to be able to schedule prime opponents (that's probably lucky for the other schools) outside of the conference, and so it was for Buchtel, whose game on TV was against Massillon, a bit south of Akron, one of the most storied football schools in the country.

That's not regional bias when I say that. For starters, it was the first coaching stop of Paul Brown, who would go on to coach at Ohio State, the Cincinnati Bengals, and in between those stints become the namesake of the Cleveland Browns. Massillon's rivalry with Canton McKinley was named by Sports Illustrated as the number one high school rivalry in the country.

And here is where I get into the "Haves and Have-Nots" part of the article. Buchtel, who lost to Massillon 52-21, despite their successes in football, looked like a microcosm of the money problems of the Akron Public Schools. The band was only about a dozen strong, and had no uniforms — the team wore (mostly) matching t-shirts. It included a tuba player in a completely different uniform — a football uniform. This guy is apparently excused from halftime chalk talk so he can join his bandmates on the field.

Those football uniforms were also pretty basic, with white jerseys with the word "GRIFFS" (short for Griffins) ironed across the front, with plain silver helmets and pants. No stripes or accoutrements of any kind (to be fair, this may have been an aesthetic decision rather than an economic one, as in the past Buchtel has a wide variety of bitchin' mythology-based helmets, a couple of which you can see here if you scroll down a bit).

Following Buchtel's band's appearance, on came Massillon's band, which was probably 100-strong and had proper uniforms and proper cheerleaders and so forth. This is a luxury that Buchtel does not have, nor likely does my high school anymore, nor do likely most of the other five schools of the City Series.

I don't have some big point to make with all of this. I'm not jealous nor envious of schools like Massillon, or Joliet Catholic, who has the No. 3-ranked running back in the nation. But if you were fortunate enough to attend a school like Massillon or Joliet Catholic, spare a though for the kids going to schools without football stadia, air-conditioned classrooms, or more than a handful of extra-curricular activities or vocational options. If you are presented with a municipal vote to raise taxes for the benefit of public schools, please vote "yes." And Tom, if I ever find an online poll involving an Akron school, you owe me one.

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