By Dr. Ken
I passed up an offer to visit Morningside, KY because my teammates from Boone County High School talked about partying, girls, drinking, and girls, all normal things for football players who had been locked up in pre-season camp for five weeks or so but since no one mentioned football, I wasn't that interested. When Steve Geiger offered a chance to hitchhike to Blacklick, approximately twenty miles east of Columbus which made it about one-hundred-and-twenty-five miles northeast of school, I jumped because football was involved. Early to mid-sixties driving time equated to approximately two-and-a-half hours which meant perhaps four, hitchhiking in the rain. It would be worth the time, effort, and discomfort because that night would be a big game between Columbus area rivals Groveport and Steve's alma mater, Gahanna Lincoln High School. Steve had attracted some attention at UC because he  arrived a day after practice began and walked onto the field with a well-dressed man whom everyone assumed was his father. Steve was in the room next to me and I got the story: having married his high school sweetheart currently a high school senior, he had planned to go to work and support his new family and pass on football. A local UC alumnus and former player wouldn't allow it and to insure that he was at school for practice and class, took the time to drive him down and hand-deliver him to the coaches. When he informed me that he was a center and linebacker, I looked at the muscularly-lean but skinny frame he had and noted that the center that represented the North All Stars and the center that represented the South All Stars in the Ohio North-South All Star game were both in freshmen camp. Geiger just smiled as if he knew something no one else did and he did because although not as highly touted, he was a quick, mean handful on the field.
Unlike the last few generations, many of the fellows in my neighborhood got married after high school or within a year or so of graduating. The thought was that one could always get a job with one of the many New York City area unions or find manual labor jobs that paid enough to eventually purchase a small house. Of course, my children ranging in age from seventeen to mid-thirties think that concept is the strangest thing they have heard as the cost of living is so high, few youngsters now get married before their mid-to-late twenties and often live at home until that time. As Steve told me, most of his teammates and friends were already married, quite a few to young ladies now in their senior year of high school because "that's how we do it down on the farm and besides, how many times can you go to the drive-in and the Dairy Queen?" Football aside, I was entering a new world. 
Steve's wife picked us up, I met the family, and we were off to visit and later attend the high school football game. Gahanna Lincoln was and is a well-respected program and when we visited, one of the better teams in central Ohio with a proud tradition. Although suburban sprawl has no doubt changed things in the Columbus area as it has everywhere, Blacklick was but one of a number of very small rural towns, some literally with one main street, that were served by an area high school, in this case, Lincoln High School in the town of Gahanna. When we arrived, it seemed that the entire state was present but I was informed that it was just the fifteen or sixteen-thousand area residents who indeed had closed up Blacklick, Gahanna, and the other small towns in the immediate area so that they could witness the battle against Groveport which was located on the other side of Columbus. I was shocked at the number of people gathered for the game and although the school looked old ("1928", Steve said, "built in 1928, everyone knows that."), the stadium was in my eyes, very much like a college or professional venue. They sold tee-shirts with the school mascot on them and special shirts made just for the Groveport game, something never seen at home. Steve and I were invited into the locker room and as the coaches went over offenses and defenses on the blackboard, I thought, "this is like the stuff we're getting in college, we never had this level of advanced technique and assignments in high school." Our high school program was one of the best in our entire area and this was far beyond anything we had run offensively or defensively. Steve was asked to say a few words to the team and as he did, the entire team stood in rapt attention. Sal Ciampi was a legend in our school and as I was beginning my college career, he was finishing his as the captain of Purdue's Boilermakers and he later played in the Blue-Gray game and had a try-out with the Giants. Everyone in our neighborhood knew he was a great player. Yet, Sal was "regular" for lack of a better word. His dad was a superintendent of sanitation in the area and he secured jobs for the high school players each summer so that we got to run behind the garbage trucks wearing five-pound ankle weights, haul the heavy pails of garbage, and get off on time to lift weights. Though weight training was not yet widely accepted for athletic improvement, our neighborhood, because of its toughness and reputation for fighting, always had a strong weight-training influence in part because one knew they would have to fight and the weight work was good preparation for the ongoing battles in the street. Sal was one of the really strong guys and we would not only watch him lift in Richie Mollo's garage as he prepared for his season at Purdue and Mollo got ready to play offensive guard at Virginia Tech, but we would sometimes lift with them, usually at the plumbing supply warehouse of Butch Jackson, another local strongman. Sal was great but he was also one of us. In a small town environment like Gahanna and Blacklick, I'm sure that everyone in the room knew Steve intimately and watched him grow up and become one of the area's better football players yet he was treated like a hero and the players hung on every word before blowing through the locker room doors to the field.

The level of play was great, sophisticated, and treated like life and death by the players and coaches who were supportive and knowledgeable. When the players went in at halftime, Steve and I were asked to wait on the sidelines. The most amazing thing occurred as Steve was introduced, the announcer noting his achievements from the prior season and with great fanfare, stating that he was home for the weekend from Cincinnati's freshmen camp. You would have thought that the Vice President had arrived such was his greeting. Then, the announcer stunned me by calling my name and having me go to midfield to join Steve (and who I believe was the Mayor or another elected official), stating that I too was a member of the freshmen team. It was in a sense, other-worldly because after all, I was a scrub and knew for at least that season, things wouldn't change too much. Yet having a visitor who was just a member of a collegiate freshman team was literally a huge thing for everyone there.
Watching the second half play out, I understood that unlike the perspective we had at home, high school football was part of the fabric of the community, especially the smaller, rural communities in Ohio. In the NY City area, the weekend's football game was "something to do", "somewhere to go" for most spectators, especially if they did not have a son or relative on the field. In Ohio, the team represented the community to others, they were the "face" of the community playing for pride against similar neighboring towns. There was a true sense of loyalty to the team and the community for each player who wore the uniform and because the players were willing and happy to give their all to a common cause, the coaches could teach more, demand more, and expect more so that the offenses and defenses relative to other areas, was quite advanced. The coaches' names I had heard bandied about who had started at one of the many Ohio high schools who had then progressed to a college position meant more to me from that point on because I knew how they had played as high school athletes, what they had done as high school coaches, and what the game must have meant to them.
We were offered a ride back to campus on Sunday afternoon by either Steve or his wife's parents and were met by countless stories not of parties but of football as almost every player had made it a point to view their former high school team in action. Ohio high school football, presented as something meaningful and important, truly was.