Go Tigers: The Rich Tradition of High School Football in Massillon, Ohio

When some men become fathers, they give all their friends a cigar to celebrate. When some women become pregnant, or sometimes after the new mothers have given birth, their friends give a baby shower, with lots of presents for the new arrival. They do things a little different in Massillon, Ohio, however. All baby boys born at the local hospital are given a miniature rubber football. It is placed in their cradle. You think the town loves football and its local high school team?

In a city of a little more than 30,000 people, the local high school football stadium holds 18,000 people-a stadium named after former NFL coach Paul Brown. It probably doesn’t hurt that the school has won 22 state football championships. More than eight million fans have watched the team since its inception.

It is no exaggeration to say the people of Massillon eat, breathe, and live the Massillon Tigers, the local high school team. Many people choose Massillon Tiger caskets to be used when they die. Generations of families play for the team.

A documentary, Go Tigers, by Kenneth Carlson, shows the love of the city for the Massillon Tigers. The lives of the local citizens are shown in the movie, which shows how the team touches the life of everybody in town.

The movie focuses on the 1999-2000 season for the Massillon Tigers. The team had just come off a 4-6 season, and hopes were high the new season would be different. The three captains for the team hope to turn the team around. In the movie, if any person says something to the effect that the people in town put too much emphasis on football, that person is ostracized. One athletic booster says that football has done more for the town than books.

Unlike many sports movies, Go Tigers is a documentary, not fiction, although it was made from the viewpoint of one man.

The movie makes mention of a lawsuit involving a player who transferred from to Massillon from another high school. It also emphasizes that the school has lost to its biggest rival, Canton McKinley for four straight years. (Massillon does lead the all time series, however, 55-46-5.) The movie shows how that for some in town a win could mean a higher education, and a loss could mean the loss of a future. Every problem in town somehow seems to be resolved on the football field.

In the movie the high school is facing bankruptcy. If the state takes over, many teachers might lose their jobs. A levy for the school was on the ballot, although previous levies have been defeated three straight times. People’s opinion of the levy seems to change, however, when football players publicly say their sport will suffer if the levy is defeated.

Paul Brown, who coached the Cleveland Browns to championships and also coached the Cincinnati Bengals, was once a coach of the Massillon Tigers. He began several game day traditions in the 1930’s. Game day includes bonfires, parades, and an average of almost 10,000 fans, which includes the almost 5,000 season ticket holders. The Paul Brown stadium the Tigers play in is the envy of some colleges.

The people in town show their school spirit by adorning shop windows with decorations the represent team colors-orange and black. The fire hydrants have tiger stripes. When the team plays at home, it is almost like a city holiday.

The Massillon Tigers have one of the most accomplished high school bands in its country, and the band is now in its 63rd year. The band has played at the Rose, Cotton, and Peach parades.

In the Massillon school’s hall of fame, nine high school national championship teams are recognized, as well as 22 state championship teams, 23 professional players, and 11 NCAA Division 1 All Americans.

Athletic boosters sell raffle tickets for $125 apiece. The prize might be worth the expensive price. The winner gets $200,000 or a $210,000 house.

The tradition of Massillon Tiger football has continued to build through the years, but it definitely started when Paul Brown was the head coach from 1932-1940. His record was 80-8-2, and his teams won six straight state championships and two national championships.

Paul Brown was not the only notable person to ever coach or play at Massillon High School. Earle Bruce, who later coached Ohio State, was a coach, and other coaches, with the college teams they later coached listed in parenthesis, include: Chuck Mather (Kansas); Bud Houghton (Akron); Tom Harp (Duke); and Bob Commings (Iowa). Quarterback Harry Stuhldreher, who was one of Notre Dame’s famous “four horsemen,” played high school football at Massillon. Some believe, however, the best football player to come from the Massillon Tigers was Ohio State and Cleveland Browns linebacker Chris Spielman.

Another thing that shows how seriously the city of Massillon takes its Tigers and its tradition is that the high school stadium press box holds 120 people, a number that rivals many NFL press boxes.

The city of Massillon has a rich high school football tradition, but other famous people have come from the city, including: United States President William McKinley; golfer Tom Weiskopf; actors Lillian Gish and David Canary, and Jeff Timmons of the rock group 98 degrees. The city will always be known most for its football, however.

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