By John Gillis
In perhaps a nod to the many historical and talented athletes that have played there, one of the nation’s top high school football stadiums is located adjacent to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
That stadium ‑ Fawcett Stadium in Canton, Ohio ‑ has served high school, college and professional football in exemplary fashion for more than 74 years.
Two local high schools (Canton McKinley High School and Canton Timken High School) call Fawcett Stadium home, while two NCAA Division II universities (Walsh University and Malone University) also enjoy its friendly confines. Canton McKinley has been a continuous tenant of Fawcett Stadium since it opened in 1924.
The venue has a National Football League (NFL) feel with artificial turf, a pro-style press box and lighting system. Fawcett Stadium has also hosted the annual preseason NFL Pro Football Hall of Fame Game since 1962.
Along with nearby Paul Brown Tiger Stadium in Massillon, the Ohio High School Athletic Association (OHSAA) uses Fawcett Stadium for its six state championship football games, as well as other playoff games. Its seating capacity of 22,375 is tops among Ohio high school football stadiums. As a result, Fawcett Stadium has been the site of every Division I (largest-enrollment classification) state finals since 1999.
One championship game was held at Fawcett in both 1991 and 1992 when the facility had a grass surface, while the games have rotated between Fawcett and Massillon Paul Brown Tiger Stadium since 1998 after Fawcett added an artificial playing surface. Since 2000, the rotation of games between those two stadiums has been divided evenly (three each), with Massillon always hosting the Division II finals on Friday evening and Canton always hosting the Division I (big school) finals on Saturday evening. The other four divisions rotate their days of play and starting times each year.
This fall, the OHSAA is beginning the first of a new two-year cycle with Canton and Massillon to host the championships before the finals move to Ohio Stadium (home of The Ohio State University Buckeyes) in Columbus for a two-year cycle beginning in 2014. Beginning next year, the OHSAA will be expanding to seven divisions in football and the exact rotation of games and days of play have yet to be determined.
In resounding testaments to the high regard in which it is held, at least two national media outlets have ranked Fawcett Stadium as the country’s best.
In 2002, the Sporting News rated Fawcett Stadium the No. 1 high school football venue in America. Six years later, ESPNHS named its “Top places to watch high school football,” and Fawcett Stadium was placed at the top of that list. Interestingly, Paul Brown Tiger Stadium was also on that list, as it was ranked tenth among the 13 identified venues. Those were the only two stadiums from Ohio on that list.
Fawcett Stadium, which was officially dedicated in 1938, is named for John A. Fawcett, a former member of the Canton Board of Education and a well-known athlete. Fawcett died of pneumonia at the age of 44, a few years before the stadium was built.
The stadium was built at an estimated cost of $500,000. The federal government paid $400,000 in the form of manpower, while a school board bond issue paid for the materials. The stadium originally seated 15,000 and was the largest high school stadium in the country at that time. On the grounds of the facility was a park, aptly named “Stadium Park.” That park still exists, although is presently much more disjointed from the stadium, as part of the park was used as the site of the Pro Football Hall of Fame and also because what is left of the park is separated from Fawcett Stadium by Interstate 77. Fawcett Stadium was constructed as a replacement for League Field, the city's previous stadium.
In 1997, Fawcett Stadium underwent a major renovation. Backed by the Canton community, $4.3 million worth of improvements were completed on the stadium. Some of the major improvements included state-of-the-art Astroturf with a player-friendly rubber base, new locker room facilities, new scoreboard with graphics display screen, new lighting, new sound system, new electrical services, structural repairs, vinyl caps for all wooden seats and a renovated press box.
For the community of Canton, it is truly something special to be the home of a facility that is as unique and multi-dimensional as Fawcett Stadium is.
“We're pleased to have hosted the OHSAA state football finals for the past 22 years and feel that we have two of the nation's top high school football facilities in Canton Fawcett Stadium and Massillon Paul Brown Tiger Stadium,” said Denny Saunier, president and CEO of the Canton Regional Chamber of Commerce. “What especially makes Fawcett unique is the fact that Canton is the home of pro football, the participants and their fans are playing in the shadows of the Pro Football Hall of Fame and they also have the opportunity to play on the field where the Pro Football Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony and preseason NFL Hall of Fame Game are held. It's hard to beat the uniqueness anywhere in the country."
In a similar manner, the Pro Football Hall of Fame warmly opens its arms to all of the high schools that participate in Fawcett Stadium.
“In my mind, one of the most unique opportunities for the participants and their fans who are involved in the OHSAA state football finals is the access they all have to the Pro Football Hall of Fame,” said Dave Motts, vice president of marketing of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. “Since Fawcett Stadium became part of the rotation in hosting the state finals on an annual basis in 1998, we estimate we have drawn over 50 teams as visitors to the Hall of Fame along with a large number of those schools' cheerleaders, marching bands and their fans. While other states may have access to pro teams' indoor stadiums, we feel the uniqueness of playing at a great high school facility like Fawcett with the history associated with it and the access we provide to the Hall of Fame is something no other state can duplicate in looking at an overall football experience."
Not surprisingly, Fawcett Stadium has been the home to many memorable OHSAA state championship football games. Among those are:
Cincinnati Elder held off Warren G. Harding in the snow to capture the 2002 OHSAA Division I state championship (Harding player with ball).
*In the 2002 Division I state championship, Cincinnati Elder (14-1) jumped out to a 14-0 lead after three quarters, then withstood a furious fourth-quarter rally by top-ranked Warren G. Harding to win its first state championship, 21-19, in the snow. Junior quarterback Rob Florian ran for two scores and passed for another to lead the Panthers. Elder became the first school from Cincinnati since 1987 to win a Division I football title. The attendance of 20,328 is the largest for an OHSAA state championship game at Fawcett Stadium.
Hilliard Davidson's Bo Delande scores a touchdown in the second overtime of the 2006 OHSAA Division I state championship at Canton Fawcett Stadium.
*Two first-time state finalists played in the first overtime contest in the big-school finals in the 2006 Division I state championship, in which fifth-ranked Hilliard Davidson (15-0) escaped with a 36-35 double-overtime win over No. 7 Mentor (13-2). It was the highest-scoring Division I finals in history. Senior running back Bo Delande tied a state finals (all divisions) record with five touchdowns and added the winning two-point conversion in the second overtime to lead the Wildcats. His four-yard scoring run in the second extra session cut the lead to 35-34, and he scored again when he ran in the two-point attempt for the game-winner moments later.
Cleveland St. Ignatius celebrates its OHSAA-best 11th state football championship when it won the 2011 Division I title at Canton Fawcett Stadium.
*In the 2011 Division I state championship game, No. 6 Cleveland St. Ignatius extended its lead for all-time OHSAA state football championships to 11 when it defeated Pickerington Central, 34-13, before 12,181 fans. The Wildcats (13-2), who missed the playoffs in 2010 for the first time in 23 years, were led by senior quarterback Eric Williams, who threw for 297 yards, and junior running back Tim McVey, who ran for 107. Head coach Chuck Kyle has been the mentor for all 11 of the Wildcats’ state titles.
John Gillis is the associate director of publications and communications of the NFHS. If you have any comments or articles ideas, please forward them to Gillis at email@example.com