NCO League Post Season Successes 1919-1945
During the years of the North Central Ohio League the post season evolved from all most nothing to many of the celebrations with today’s accolades. In the early days the post season only meant on to the next sport. After the last game tryouts began the next week for the new season.
There was usually no banquet, no all-league team, and certainly no All-State recognition. The only OHSAA State championship was in track, which began back in 1908. Even the Delaware basketball tournament, which was held the first week in March, just interrupted the league schedule, and that was completed after a team was eliminated. The only honor an athlete could expect was called the “Wearer of the school letter,” and not all the starters received the award. About 1915 Ashland gave their first letters. At first they were just upper classmen, who were chosen by an Athletic Board.
The earliest recognition was a school assembly where letters were awarded in all sports. The first post-season banquet in Ashland was 1915, and by 1924 the captain-elect was announced for the next year. Over the next two decades AHS teams received fetes from the Lions Club, the Rotary, the Superintendent, the coach, and even the Phi Sig fraternity at Ashland College.
By 1930 the service clubs were inviting college coaches as their speakers and the teams as their guests. The Ohio State coaches were the most popular celebrities, and Floyd Stahl, Sam Williamson, and Wes Fesler spoke at the Ashland Lions and Rotary meetings in 1931-32. The Jaycees began an annual basketball banquet in 1944. When a Boosters Club was organized in 1947, they paid the famous Adolph Rupp of Kentucky $500 to speak at the basketball banquet.
In Mansfield during the 20’s the M Association was a very active club sponsoring banquets and dances even inviting alumni letter winners. The Thanksgiving dance was a major formal affair at the Leland Hotel for lettermen and alumni during the mid-20’s. In 1930 the Boosters Club had an annual all-sports banquet in January, and over 200 boosters honored 85 athletes from 3 sports in the high school cafeteria. In 1935 the News-Journal began their annual football banquet at the Leland Hotel. The featured speaker was Ohio State’s football coach Francis Schmidt. Floyd Stahl and L. W. St. Johns were also on the program. The second year former Tyger and OSU All-American Inwood Smith was the featured speaker. Also, the practice of announcing the next Tyger football captain was a highlight of the event. The successful teams under J. Russell Murphy annually enjoyed a series of fetes during their championship years.
After the great 1938 football co-championship the Galion officials and the Downtown Coaches association coordinated a banquet for the team, coaches, cheerleaders, and the band. The Galion women’s groups prepared for over 300 in the junior high cafeteria. QB Jim Ernst was chosen the honorary captain, and the players received 10K gold footballs. They had been given trips to the Massillon-McKinley and the Ohio State-Michigan football games, also. The featured speaker was Coach Don Peden of Ohio University. Also, the Friday night following the game the Galion seniors invited the Shelby students to a dance in celebration of “the” game.
In Shelby at their athletic banquet nearly 200 guests celebrated the football and basketball teams in their new high school cafeteria. The Boosters Club presented the football lettermen with gold footballs. Supt. C.G. Keck read a poem, which he had written about the “38 season. After toasts by the head coaches and the captains OSU’s Francis Schmidt advised everyone to get a college education at an Ohio school which would be close to family and friends.
By the end of the NCO days the award’s assembly and the athletic banquet were very much in vogue as were the small gold balls for league championships. However, the facilities available for banquets varied in each community. Not all schools had a large cafeteria, since the open lunch hour was still the custom. Consequently, hotels, churches, service clubs, the YMCA, public halls, and even private homes served as venues for the post-season celebrations.
In Ashland the Jayteen, a youth center at Main and Orange, held post game dances and post-season fetes. In Marion the Hotel Harding and the Harding home were used to entertain the post-season banquet. In Bucyrus the Elberson and Weaver Hotels were special banquet sites. In Mt. Vernon the teams were honored at the dining room in the Memorial Building and the famed Alcove Restaurant. The hotel in Galion (Central/Talbott) was always a popular location for the post-season NCO league meetings.
The first all-NCO football team appeared in 1922, and it was picked as a composite from the NCO coaches. In 1926 the new Ashland T-G writer Bill McKee named a service list in NCO basketball. By the 1930’s several schools were even recognizing their All-opponent squads. The first All-Ohio selection in basketball from the NCO was Ashland’s center Earl Thomas in 1932. The choices were made by the INS, but only from the teams at the OHSAA State tournament. In 1938 the Associated Press was the first wire service to attempt a statewide All-Ohio team in Class A and B basketball.
The first All-Ohio football team was chosen in 1933 by the Columbus Junior Chamber of Commerce. Four NCO players made the team: 1st team John Depler, Ashland’s center; 2nd team Jim Heiser, Mansfield’s center; and two honorable mentions: the Shelby QB Orville LaBarge and Becker Jenkins, the leading scorer in the NCO from Mansfield. The AP began selecting an All-Ohio team in 1938. The next year the United Press combined the opinions of sportswriters, coaches, and officials to chose their All-Ohio team, and in 1942 the INS joined the speculation process. The North-South All-Star football game wasn’t held until the post-NCO days in 1946.
The first OHSAA basketball championship tournament was in 1923. A district system similar to the Illinois and Indiana plan was used to bring 16 Class A and 16 Class B teams to the Columbus Fair Grounds Coliseum for three days in mid-March. No NCO team ever won that championship. The 1932 Ashland team was the only NCO school to make it to the semi-finals or what is now called the Final Four.
In time the OHSAA decided to include the Ohio Wesleyan Delaware tournament in their “official” list of State champions. The original NCO winners were: Mansfield in 1909 and Delaware in 1913 and 1915. Mt. Vernon won the final invitational in 1922, and they finished 2nd in the nation at the Chicago tournament, when Ced Smith and Harold “Cookie” Cunningham made 1st Team All-American. However, critics of the list point out that most of the metropolitan schools were seldom invited during the 14-year history of the event with the exception of the Dayton schools, and Dayton Stivers won it 4 times.
A State championship in football was not as clear-cut. By the 1930’s the United Press wire service was compiling a list of the undefeated and once-beaten teams at the end of the season. Thus everyone at the top of the list could claim that they were the State champions. In 1931 Sandusky (11-0), Portsmouth (10-0), and Mansfield (8-0) were at the top. Mansfield challenged the other two schools to a charity game the first week in December. They both refused. Sandusky had played 11 games, and Portsmouth said that several players were already practicing basketball. Thus, all three schools claimed a tri-championship.
In his T-G Bull Pen column (Dec. 2, 1931) Bill McKee made an interesting observation on the superiority of Ohio’s top teams. He pointed out two criteria. First, he listed the number of 19-year old players, which was the limit for scholastic participation in Ohio at that time. Portsmouth had three, Sandusky possibly five, and Mansfield had three.
Secondly, he wrote “In spite of the claims of Nordic supremacy, there appears to be proof to the effect that the dark skinned boy is a better athlete that his fairer brethren.” McKee listed the Negro stars at Sandusky, Mansfield, Steubenville, and the Cleveland Senate champs. He said, “the percentage of Negroes, who become athletic stars in comparison to the number of Negroes who participate in sports, appears to be higher than the percentage of Caucasians who acquire stardom.” He surmised that his premise would make an interesting research for someone.
In 1941 when the Tygers were a non-league member, they were declared co-State champs with Massillon Washington. But, it wasn’t until 1944 that the (INS) International News Service began the first weekly poll of their sportswriters, who voted for the Top Ten football teams of the nearly 450 Ohio schools playing football. During the NCOL era a statewide basketball ranking was never taken by any of the wire services. In January 1950 the Associated Press released the first basketball poll, but it was a single list with Class A and B teams.
The most successful NCO school in the OHSAA basketball tournament was Ashland. Four times they made it to the State tournament in Columbus. In 1932 they made it to the last four teams after winning the Findlay State Semi-finals or what is now called the Regional tournament. Three times the A’s won the Sandusky District (1936, 1937, and 1941) to make it to the sixteen teams in Columbus. They only won the first game in 1937 before being eliminated.
In 1924 Bucyrus and Marion Harding made it to State, but both team lost the first game. Mansfield made it to Columbus in 1927, and they lost their first game to Dover, the eventual State champion. None of the other NCO schools made it to the State basketball tournament. The Mansfield Tygers made it to the State several times in their post-NCO years.
While Ashland, Mansfield, Bucyrus, Galion, and Shelby competed in the Sandusky District, Marion and Mt. Vernon were assigned to the tough Central District. Each pulled off major memories. In 1939 the Mt. Vernon Yellow Jackets eliminated Newark, the defending State champs, in the District tournament. In 1943 Marion’s Dick Mulvaine broke the District scoring record with 38-points in the second game of the night after Newark’s Fred Schaus set the mark with 29-points in the opener. Nevertheless, Mt. Vernon, Marion, and Delaware, the other NCO team in that District, always ran into Newark or a Columbus school blocking their run to State.
The NCO had two basketball players, who were recognized as first-team All-Ohio: Earl Thomas (1932) of Ashland, and Don Bateman (1939) from Mt. Vernon. Ted Jacob from Ashland was second in the State in scoring to Alex Groza of Martins Ferry and Kentucky fame in 1943-44. However, his 344-points only gained him a second team All-Ohio on the INS selections. Bob Miller, Ashland guard in 1945, earned a third team honor on the AP squad. All of the other NCO picks were honorable mentions on the wire service squads.
The H-M list includes: Mt. Vernon’s Eddie Lore and Marion’s Fred Dunlap in 1938; Mt. Vernon’s Kay Thompson in 1939; Vince Barr of Ashland, Russell Reichardt of Marion, and Bill Crumrine and Jake Givens both of Mt. Vernon in 1940; Mike Michael of Bucyrus and Pete Ransom of Mt. Vernon in 1941; Gene Shellhorn of Marion in 1942; Dick Mulvaine of Marion, Bill Wright of Mt. Vernon, and Galion’s Charles Heskett and William Stoner in 1943; Jack Harris of Ashland and Marion’s Fritz Guy and Charles Fazio in 1944; and in the final year of the NCO Dan Benham of Bucyrus in 1945.
Eight NCO football players were recognized as first team All-Ohio selections. They were: John Depler of Ashland in 1933; Gaylord Bucher, Mansfield’s guard twice in 1935 and 1936; and Larry Maidens, Galion’s center in 1938. 1942 was a banner year when the three wire services selected three first team All-Ohioans: Ashland’s Leo Strang and Marion’s Don Kay and Harold Jenkins. Marion’s tackles Charles Fazio and Elvin Beach were recognized in 1943.
The second team selections were: from Mansfield: Jim Heiser (1933) and Dick Miller (1934); from Bucyrus Bob Bonin (1940) and Jack Shuck (1943); from Galion James Gilson (1940); from Marion Wayne Short (1940), King Keller (1940, and Wayne Ferguson (1940); from Mt. Vernon William Lynbarger (1942); and from Shelby Harold Bliss (1938).
The third team selections were: from Galion Herb Durtschi (1943) and Bernard Lanning from Mt. Vernon (1944).
The honorable mention list from Ashland included: Paul Chorpening (1938), Glenn Martin (1942), Bob” Bubbles” Puglisi (1942), Bob Dove (1943), Dick Patterson (1943), and Western Wiles (1943 & 1944).
The honorable mentions from Galion were: Bernard Ernest (1942), Val Ramsey (1942), Emery Schaffer (1942 & 1943), Charles Griebling (1944), Art Thomas (1944), and Joe McQuire (1944).
The honorable mentions from Marion were: Rollin Beach (1938), Jack Lewis (1939), Warren McGinnis (1939), Jim Turner (1941), Donald Benedict (1942), Thomas Boyd (1942), Leroy Harvey (1942), Stewart Young (1943), Bob Stroble (1944), and Norman Dillinger (1944).
The others, who were selected on the honorable mention lists, included: Mt. Vernon’s Ernie Thompson (1939) and Bill Wright (1942). The H-M from Shelby were: Orville LaBarge (1933), Bob Laubie (1939), Salvator DeVito (1943), and John White (1944). Mansfield had one H-M in their NCO days Becker Jenkins (1933).
It is noteworthy to bear in mind that the 1941 All-Ohio squad had seven players from the Mansfield team that tied Massillon. As a result NCO received just one pick from the entire league Jim Turner of Marion. Nevertheless, in 1944, Loren W. Tibbals of the INS noticed that eight of the eleven NCO first-stringers were recognized on some All-Ohio selection. Also, the next year he replaced Bill McKee at the Ashland Times-Gazette, and his well-known column became known as “Scribbles by Tibbals.”
Any chronicle of the bygone days of the NCO would not be complete without including the minor sports mostly in the spring season. However, few fans meant lower budgets, and smaller schedules meant less travel. Many times the facilities were not completely prepared until the ground dried out in May. The tracks were cinder and the baseball diamonds were skinned with no outfield fences.
At Ashland’s Myers Field the track ran around the baseball diamond and circled behind home plate. Bud Plank, who played and coached there at Ashland HS, said that the outfielders had to be leery of the javelin throwers during his high school days, and sometimes the track meet interrupted the baseball game, when the two teams were playing the same day. When this author asked about the other baseball diamonds, I joked if they had a pitching mounds, and he replied, “Yeah, and we even had four bases in those days, too.”
In baseball Ashland was the only school that made it to the State tournament. In 1933 the A’s made it to the semi-final game. In 1936 they made it to the quarterfinals, and Bud Plank played on that team. Roger Paxton coached both teams.
In golf the 1937 Ashland team finished 4th in the State, and Bob Castor was the runner up to the State medalist from Columbus Central. In 1939 Ashland’s Eugene Burns qualified to play in the State tournament. Donald Cox from Bucyrus finished 13th at the State in 1941.
In tennis Marion Harding sent two doubles teams to State. Paul Sifritt and Robert Hamilton made it in 1920, and in 1926 Ted Cunningham and Thorley Sargent lost in the championship match. Twice Ashland’s Edgar Koehl Jr. went to State in doubles in 1935, and in 1936 he finished in the final eight in singles that second trip.
Track had the most NCO athletes at State. In 1921 Galion won the first place Class B team for the only out-right State championship by an NCO school. Coach H.E. Welsh had four first place finishes: John Wisterman in the 120-yard high hurdles, James Sykes in the 220-yard low hurdles, Ivan Zaebst in the mile run, and the Mile Relay team. The team scored in 13 places with others points being won by Elvan Nichols, Wayne Giedhill, Cliff and Donald Mochel, plus Cyril Wisler, their football captain, in three events. In 1923 Bucyrus finished fifth at the State, and Alton Smith was second in the 120-yard high hurdles and the 220-yard low hurdles. Mansfield had two winners: John E. Hall won the discus in 1927, and Gil Wiegand won the javelin in 1937 the final year for the event. Between 1930 and 1942 Ashland sent over 20 athletes to the State. Their best finish was a 4th place by Jim Jesson in 1933, and he lost to the famous Jesse Owens, who set the worlds’ record at that time.
When World War Two broke out most schools dropped their spring sports teams because of rations on gas and tires. When the war ended in 1945 the North Central Ohio League had ended its glorious 26-year history.