Weather aside, North-South return to Massillon a success

Chris Easterling
Updated: Monday, May 1, 2017
Massillon's Thayer Munford, right, and Pickerington North's Connor Gessels share a handshake after the North-South game.<br /><div id="dfp-300x250" style="float:right;"><script type="text/javascript">googletag.display("dfp-300x250");</script></div>
Massillon's Thayer Munford, right, and Pickerington North's Connor Gessels share a handshake after the North-South game.


MASSILLON  Steve Channell looked around Paul Brown Tiger Stadium Saturday evening as the stadium lights began to replace the daylight as the primary method of illumination and smiled.

It was a smile that was a combination of emotions for the Ohio High School Football Coaches Association's director for the North-South All-Star Football Classic. In it was a mix of relief as well as pride over the nation's longest-running high-school football all-star game completing its 72nd edition just minutes earlier with the big-school (Division I-III) South team beating the North 38-34 in the second of a doubleheader.

What started with a thunderstorm preventing the small-school (Divisions IV-VII) game - won by the North 45-42 - from kicking off for more than an hour, ended with two highly-competitive games to entertain the crowd in the game's return to Stark County after a 17-year absence. The event was such a success in the eyes of the OHSFCA - which runs the game - that Channell assured a return to Massillon for the 2018 game.

"The only negative nobody can control but the guy upstairs," said Channell, who is also the head football coach at Miamisburg High School. "That's the weather. I'd love to have the game here - which we will have it here again next year - with good weather, sunny, and see what kind of crowd we can get. Other than that, I thought the week went very well. I thought the kids played well; they behaved, more times than not. We had some exciting football so the people definitely got their money's worth."

Saturday marked the first time Massillon had played host to the game since 2000, which was the last time it was in Stark County. In the 17 years between visits to Paul Brown Tiger Stadium, it had bounced around from MAPFRE - formerly Crew - Stadium in Columbus to Ohio Stadium to Welcome Stadium in Dayton.

Yet, even in the minds of some of the coaches, the only place that felt right for the game to be played was the place it was played Saturday.

"What a fantastic place," said St. Mary's coach Doug Frye, who guided the big-school South team. "The smartest thing the coaches' association did was bring this game back here. We've all been worried that the game may be on its last leg. Well, rain, storms, tough situations, but what a crowd. Two great games; great hospitality up here. It was a first-class operation and I see great things for the future."

That future includes a guarantee from the OHSFCA to return the game to Massillon next year, with the doubleheader being played on April 28, 2018. The association also plans on maintaining the accommodation setup it used this year with the Embassy Suites in Jackson Township to house the players and coaches.

Channell said the association decided earlier on Saturday to make the commitment to return to Stark County. He said that's the plan for the foreseeable future of the game.

"We'll be back at the Embassy Suites; the game will be back here (at Paul Brown Tiger Stadium)," Channell said. "We'll go year-by-year from that. Everybody keeps asking me, 'Well, what happens when the (Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium) opens in Canton?' Well, that would be an economic decision. I don't know the economics of that at this point. But we'll be back here in Massillon next year."

The players spent their time in Stark County talking about how special the opportunity was to be a part of the game. That included nine players from the area between the two games.

Almost to a player, they spoke of how special is was to be a part of the experience and the tradition that comes with the game. However, they also reveled in being able to utilize the Paul L. David Athletic Training Center for practice and then play in Paul Brown Tiger Stadium.

"I hear a lot of the kids say that the stadium feels like a college stadium," said Massillon receiver Austin Jasinski, one of four Tigers who played on the big-school North team. "That makes me feel great that I grew up here in this city and played here and did all that stuff that I did on the football field here. Everybody was just shocked by it."

Reach Chris at 330-775-1128 or chris.easterling@indeonline.com.

On Twitter: @ceasterlingINDE