By Dr. Ken
There are some things that are impossible to explain, emotions that are impossible to convey, and memories that are fifty years old yet seem to have sprung up only days ago. My first exposure to Ohio high school football encompasses all of the above. High school football in the New York City-Long Island area in the 1950's was as close to big-time as it got with large crowds and numerous players going on to national collegiate and professional fame. Famed former Syracuse All American gridder and Olympic sprinter Marty Glickman who was the radio announcer for the Giants, Jets, Yankees, and Knicks at one time or another and recognized as one of the best in the business had been a great high school player in Brooklyn. On chosen Saturdays, he would announce The High School Game Of The Week which would be shown live and for those of us busy playing during its initial broadcast, on a "time-delayed" presentation later in the evening. With almost all City and Long Island games played on Saturday afternoons to avoid the potential problems of dealing with rampant violence at night, Glickman's appearance on the scene for pre-game interviews was the ultimate thrill. Ronnie Blye's name may have been a "guess-who?" question to anyone other than college recruiters who came far and wide to see the Tilden High School back do his thing but he was known by every high school player in the three states that made up the "New York Metro area" football pool. Northern New Jersey always played better football and remains a hotbed of national recruiting, but Blye, who started at Notre Dame and finished at Florida A&M, inspired a decade's worth of City area players. Blye kicked around the Atlantic Coast Football League with the 1966 Jersey City Jets, the 1967 Westchester Bulls, and 1970 Long Island Bulls and his '67 league-leading rushing performance and kick return ability had him doing the same for the Giants in 1968 and Eagles in '69. The span of his high school through professional career kept high school players pushing for glory even though it also reflected the period in which attendance dropped significantly, gang-related violence in and around the schools became a primary issue, schools were lacking the finances to fund teams and maintain facilities, and societal change made being a member of the football team a goal that was not as important as it had been. Attendance reflected this.
On Long Island, the gang violence wasn't as pronounced but there was a cultural shift that made appearing at the weekly game less important socially. In our area, football thank goodness, was still important and attendance was good relative to other schools despite the fact that the blue-collar area had many working two jobs which made their appearance at the game difficult or one that required a late entrance. It wasn't like "the old days" and perhaps 1000-2000 would attend a game with an occasional contest of special importance bringing overflowing crowds that literally, could not be counted in the small bleacher-lined stadium area. At both Long Beach and Lawrence High Schools, games were played on sites overlooking the bay with flocks of sea gulls hovering overhead, constantly screeching and dropping clam shells and guano through entire games. Practicing in the same conditions made us immune to it but it was a distraction for opponents. Occasional college scouts and/or assistant coaches would be in attendance and our coaches would let us know this or introduce the coaches during warm-ups so that we were motivated to play our best. Jim Brown (Syracuse and NFL Hall Of Fame), John Mackey (Syracuse, NFL Hall Of Fame), Sal Ciampi (captain at Purdue), Lou DeFillipo (Purdue), and Joe Blocker (Toledo, CFL Montreal) represented the area well and were the standard-bearers.
When I arrived at Cincinnati, the perspective changed. Massillon Washington, Canton McKinley, Steubenville, Niles McKinley, and Youngstown Cardinal Mooney were talked about as if they were NFL teams. I understood that being All County anywhere in the New York City area was on the same level as being waterboy on most of the better Ohio high school squads and it was intriguing. The level of sophistication in offense, defense, terminology, equipment, and literally everything related to the game was on a much higher plane. I accepted this, found the entire history of Ohio high school football interesting, yet didn't truly understand it until I saw it personally for the first time. We had been in camp a long time, typical for the era. The general idea with no scholarship limitations was to invite one-hundred or more frosh players to camp and allow them to beat each other half to death or run them in two or three-a-day practices until many if not most fell by the wayside. At many schools, prospective freshman gridders were brought in during the spring and asked to "voluntarily" mix it up a bit with the redshirts from the previous season or regular varsity players. In short, these were try-outs which saved coaches the trouble of running off additional players once fall camp opened. It was as illegal then as it is now but certainly a widespread practice in many parts of the country.
Practice for almost every school differed from today's procedures. There were no wet-bulb thermometers, no concern with heat index readings, and no medical personnel at practice. No matter what the temperature and humidity were, the team practiced in full pads and as I had experienced in high school, with no water breaks. This was not barbaric, it was standard procedure. At UC, we were told that an experiment of sorts would take place and that in addition to the handful of salt tablets that would be gulped down prior to practice, another standard procedure at every school dating to the 1940's, we would be allowed the very advanced practice allowance of one water-break at each session. A whistle would blow at the approximate half-way mark of practice, two lines would form, and a trainer would walk down each line with a single metal bucket of iced water. We were admonished to keep our muddy, dirty hands out of the water. A dipper or ladle would be offered with the bucket and as the student trainer stood in front of each man, he would scoop a dipper of water and ice cubes from the bucket and shovel the entire thing into his mouth. Of course, many of the fellows also reached in for a handful of cooling ice which meant that everyone after perhaps the third man in line, got a mouthful of the grass, mud, and the saliva and mucous of every previous player in line! The fellows at the end of the line, and one never knew which end the trainers would start from, were left with a disgusting mass of phlegm, mud, and an occasional band-aid. Needless to say, these rather unsanitary practices would horrify the modern player but we were grateful for the three or five minute break from the brutally hot and brutally physical practices and for the water. In conjunction with the standard rule in almost every college and high school that your helmet was not to be removed once you stepped onto the practice field, the unhygienic water break was seen as a blessing and in retrospect, may have prevented a number of cases of heat-related illness.
We had practiced for weeks and on the trimester system at UC, the football season would begin before school and classes actually began, thus, it was an extremely long and fatiguing camp. At a Thursday post-practice meeting, the freshman team received great news; we would report for the usual morning practice and pound each other into jelly, but instead of returning to the dorms, a meeting, an afternoon practice, and an evening meeting, we would be allowed to go home and would not have to return until mandatory check-in at 9 PM on Sunday evening. This announcement was met with glee and shouts of excitement but being the only one from New York, the only one who in fact was not from Ohio, Western Pennsylvania, Kentucky, or Indiana, all within easy driving distance from the campus, I was to be left on my own. The coaches told me later that arrangements would be made so that I had access to my room and money for food off-campus unless I could go home with one of the fellows who was heading for home. Aware of my plight, I was fortunate enough to receive a number of invitations and agreed to hitchhike to the Blacklick, Ohio home of center/linebacker Steve Geiger who had been an All State performer at Gahanna Lincoln High School. He told me that once we thumbed a ride to the Columbus area, his wife would pick us up and we could watch his former high school play Groveport and while none of this meant much to me other than a chance to finally see an Ohio high school football game and get away from practice for a few days, I was about to embark into an entirely new world where the attitude and level of high school football was truly amazing.

John Mackey