The North-South All-Star Football Game will be played in Massillon's Paul Brown Tiger Stadium on April 29. However, it's been the collaborative efforts of not just individuals in Massillon, but in both Stark and Wayne counties, which has the Ohio High School Football Coaches Association optimistic about the prospects of the game's success.
Tony Carr, an assistant coach at Perry, is the OHSFCA's Region 7 representative, which consists of the high-school football coaches in Stark and Wayne counties. He is also one who has been at the forefront within the association pushing to bring the all-star game back to Stark County for the first time since 2000 after it had spent a decade-and-a-half either in Columbus or Dayton.
However, it wasn't until Carr gained the support of not just the coaches in the area, but also key non-coaching individuals such as Massillon Mayor Kathy Catazaro-Perry and Visit Canton marketing director Tonja Marshall, that the dream ultimately became a reality. It was that across-the-board help which made the sales pitch easier to push.
"When we brought it back here ... there were some things that just said, 'Hey, we don't just want to be considered one school district's game,'" said Carr, who is handling game logistics locally for the OHSFCA, along with Miamisburg head coach and game director Steve Channell. "It's our game; it's the (OHSFCA's) game. ... When I had my coaches' backing for it, it made it a lot more easier to push to get this game back here and for me to tell the association's Board of Directors that this game is going to be sponsored by the region's coaches. The region's coaches want to be part of this game."
Carr points to the variety of volunteers and assistance which has come from across the area. He starts with Massillon, which is not just hosting the games - a small-school (Divisions IV-VII) game at noon and a big-school (Divisions I-III) game at 4 p.m. - but also serving as sites for a total of five practices per team in the three days in advance of the game.
Beyond the game host, Carr said a large number of schools have volunteers to have players and coaches assist with various game-day items, such as merchandise and program sales or other things. GlenOak, McKinley and Wooster, while not nearly the extent of the list, were a few of the schools which were mentioned by name.
It's not just area football programs assisting. The players will stay in a Jackson Township hotel while in town, while the Hampton Inn in Massillon has also set up a special rate for those attending the game.
Meanwhile, the Pro Football Hall of Fame will host the players on April 27 for a special tour of the museum, and also helped set up Paul Warfield as the guest speaker for the game's banquet on April 28 at the Massillon Knights of Columbus. Several area businesses have also stepped forward - Carr specifically mentioned Papa John's Pizza, which is provided a special offer during game week - to assist with the association.
Carr believes the outpouring of support from around the area speaks to one of the biggest reasons why the OHSFCA elected to bring the game back to Stark County.
"I think that was a big motivator for the association members, coaches and directors to say, 'Hey guys, we've got to recognize that Stark County and Wayne County love football probably like no other county,'" Carr said. "Do the other counties love and care about football? Absolutely; we're not saying that. But as far as making sure the fans are going to come out and support it, I don't think you can question that."
That passion was a reason why Channell, in an interview February with The Independent, said the game was moving to Massillon this year. He cited the hope that getting it into a region known as a high-school football hotbed would provide a boost to the game's attendance.
Now, with the game just over two weeks away, the proof's showing itself through the response locally to the opportunity. While there remains a few i's to dot and t's to cross, Carr said the preparations are right on line for when the players arrive for the game on April 26.
"Everything's going great," Carr said. "Visit Canton has done an amazing job on trying to guide me through this along with the mayor, as well as many other people from the Massillon school district and my school district as well. We're fine-tuning a lot of things right now and we're excited."
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