Massillon Football


“In the beginning when The Great Creator was drawing plans for this world of ours, He decided there should be something for everyone. He gave us mountains that reach to the sky, deep blue seas, green forests, dry deserts, gorgeous flowers and gigantic trees. Then he decided there should be football and he gave us Massillon. He created only one Massillon. He knew that would be enough.” Ron Maly, Des Moines Sunday Register

The Massillon Mystique

Coach Paul Brown put Massillon on the national map. His success in coaching high school football and references to the Massillon Tigers as he continued his successful career brought national attention to this enthusiastic community in northeast Ohio. He started the Booster Club organization that has continued to support the team and the community. He created the “Greatest Show in High School Football” with Swing Band Leader George “Red” Bird who followed him to the Cleveland Browns. Yet there is more to the story. In the late nineteenth century the Massillon Tiger Pro Football team was among the pioneers of the game and the local fans were vigorous in the support of football. Dave Stewart was Paul Brown’s high school coach and Paul gave him a great deal of credit his success. Here is how it all happened. The Early Days Northeast Ohio is arguably the cradle of football. Early popularity of the game stems from professional teams in Akron, Canton and Massillon. The Massillon high school team received its mascot name from the early professional Massillon Tigers. Professional football in Stark County lasted until 1923. The team of 1891 was the first Massillon high school team to receive recognition in the press. That team was not equipped as the teams of today. Each player had to secure his own uniform. Generous fathers occasionally supplied several team members with the necessary equipment. The players received their instructions from college boys home on vacation, or some adults who took interest in the sport and would coach after school. Games were played on any suitable spot, not on a well-lighted field with eighteen to twenty thousand fans in attendance. The spectators in those early days had to stand to see the contest and the only way to collect admissions was to pass the hat during games. If anyone wonders why so many of the early football players are pictured with hair parted in the middle, the answer is simple. There were no helmets for head protection so the boys parted their hair in the middle to help cushion any blow received from an opponent. In the early 1900’s the high school began supporting its teams and encouraging student participation. According to historians the first official Massillon High team was organized in 1904. In “The Snail,” the yearbook of 1908, the following paragraph appears. “If Massillon High pursues the same policy in the future that she has this year, the coming years will see some triumphs in athletics. Nothing will influence a student to take an interest in school work more effectively than athletics.” The school team of 1909, coached by Ralph “Hap” Fugate (13-4-3), claimed the championship of Northeastern Ohio, winning all its games except one – a tie with Akron Central High School. That team was the first to be awarded letters and was a self-supporting team, turning $200 back into the school treasury and providing Coach Fugate who served without charge a purse of $50. The Tigers had winning seasons in the three years coached by Fugate. In 1912, Sydney Jones (9-9-1) was the first faculty member to coach the tigers. During next years Superintendent Charles L. Cronbaugh elevated the football program to a well organized activity. Massillon native, John Snavely (41-8-2), turned out the first undefeated, untied club in 1916 and Massillon’s second state championship. In 1916 Massillon High School was first admitted to the High School Athletic Association. The yearbook of that year states, “We hereby take this means of expressing to the townspeople the school’s appreciation of the loyal support rendered at all times. Not a game was played to which a great number of Massillon boosters did not ‘turn out,’ and at many out of town games they outnumbered the local rooters. We trust that in the future the M.H.S. teams may be imbued with the same fighting spirit and that same love of fair play that always characterized their work in the past.” John Snavely stayed until 1919 and coached the first game against the new Canton McKinley High School. The Tigers won 21-0. Elmer Snyder (3-4-1) piloted the Tigers in 1920 and then Dave Stewart (38-9-0), who, because he coached Paul Brown, was the precursor of the modern era of Massillon high school football. After his 5-4 season in 1921, Stewart gave Massillon the Ohio Scholastic championship with ten straight victories in 1922. He followed with three more fine teams before leaving Massillon in 1925. He was succeeded by Dan Atkinson (8-7-3) in 1926 – 1927. Elmer McGrew (20-16-4) coached through 1931 and produced some historical highlights. In 1930 the first high school night game occurred on October 30 when Massillon defeated Conneaut 26-0. The same year the Tigers broke Cleveland Heights 27 game winning streak. In 1931 the Tigers lost to Toledo Scott which was coached by Jimmy Aiken and to an undefeated Dover team coached by Bup Rearick. Both of those coaches would eventually coach the McKinley Bulldogs. There can be little wonder at the present attitude of the citizens of Massillon toward their schools and their teams. The tradition supporting school projects had a long period of growth.

The Paul Brown Years

Paul Brown was nine years old when his family moved to Massillon from Norwalk, Ohio. In PB:The Paul Brown Story he describes Massillon in 1917 as “a wealthy, thriving steel town with a healthy blue-collar work ethic and….some fine sports teams including the Massillon Tigers, one of professional footballs first franchises, a healthy semipro baseball team called the Agathons….and a healthy assortment of good high school teams, particularly a football team that had for years turned out tough, hard nosed players who later went on to colleges in Ohio, Indiana and western Pennsylvania.” Brown played high school football under Dave Stewart and credited Stewart with teaching him the fundamentals of winning and instilling in him the desire to coach. After graduation, he attended Ohio State for a year but felt it was too large for him. He transferred to Miami of Ohio where he eventually took over as starting quarterback for his junior and senior years. His grades were good enough to recommend him as a Rhodes Scholar, but in 1930 the country was in the midst of the Great Depression and the goal was survival. He was recommended for a teaching and coaching job at Severn Tech, a prep school for the Naval Academy, by Dave Stewart and was fortunate to receive the job. In his two year term his teams were 16-1-1. In 1931 Massillon was 1-9 and was looking for a new coach. He wasted no time in arranging an interview to coach where football was the focus of the entire community. There were several factions pushing their candidates and finally a school board member called Dave Stewart to read a list of the candidates. “Pick Brown” was the reply. Paul Brown was just 24 years old when selected as the Massillon High School football coach. There is no doubt that Paul Brown put Massillon “on the map.” His achievements in the game and his continuing references to his roots kept Massillon in the public eye. But he has meant more than that to the community. Success was not immediate to the fledgling coach. The first two years ended with defeat by the traditional rival Canton McKinley Bulldogs. This rivalry dated back to the professional days and in 1913 was scheduled as the last game of the high school season. There was some grumbling in the town. At the same time the coach noticed a player at practice sick to his stomach ejecting green tomatoes. When it was found that the player’s family could not afford a healthy diet in the depression environment Paul Brown started a booster club to make sure his players would be fed. The club became a vital part of his contribution to the Massillon mystique. It was an organization to help the team and it also provided a forum for meetings where the coach discussed his program. All walks of life became close in their relationship to Brown and his kids. The grumbling stopped, the team was fed and the program became the rallying point for the community. In his nine years (1932-1940) as head football coach his teams were 80-8-2 (90.9 winning percentage). There were 6 state championships and 4 national championships. Paul Brown took his relationship with sports beyond football. He was appointed athletic director for all sports in 1934. He believed in excellence in all extracurricular activities. For example, in his last five years the Massillon High basketball team went to the state level tournament reaching the semifinals three times and the finals once. In 1936 the athletic program was so popular that the school board purchased land and obtained WPA funds to build a 21,000 seat stadium. Tiger stadium opened in 1939, was eventually renamed Paul Brown Tiger Stadium and still stands as a jewel of the community. Paul Brown’s innovations in football eventually earned him a place in the Football Hall of Fame. Many started in Massillon – play books, individual grading on game performance, coaches calling plays, and scripting opening offensive plays. But there is more to the story. Paul Brown recognized that what happened under the Friday night lights and the final Saturday afternoon game was entertainment for the fans. He worked with and encouraged George (Red) Bird to develop the Massillon Tiger Swing Band and created the greatest show in high school football. It was through his effort that the mascot in a real tiger skin urged the fans on from the sidelines and during half-time shows. On the day of a game the downtown area was awash with the orange and black tiger motif with flags flying and a large sign in the center of town announcing the season schedule. That tradition flourishes today. Under Paul Brown the football program generated enough revenue to support all extracurricular activities. In PB:The Paul Brown Story he is quoted, “We wanted to have the best because we wanted our students to see nothing but the best and be content with nothing less than the best – whether in football or any other area.” The only other job Paul ever wanted was to be the Ohio State football coach. That chance came in 1941. He went a long way from there but never forgot Massillon.