By Tom Nader
Publisher and Editor
The Captains Luncheon began as a small idea that carried a big meaning.
Introduced by Ravenna High School graduate and former football player Frank Hairston, this year marks the 27th year of the luncheon and its purpose of bringing together the Kent and Ravenna communities to celebrate one of Ohio’s longest-standing and most revered football rivalries.
“The first luncheon was in 1997 in a small conference room at Robinson Memorial Hospital,” remembers Chas Madonio, who has a connection to both schools in the rivalry as a Ravenna High School graduate and 57-year resident of Kent. “A giant sub was cut into sandwich-size pieces, several liters of pop were brought in and someone baked a cake.”
It was a perfect addition to a rivalry that already had many layers, including week-long events at each school building up to the pageantry of game night.
A game that will turn 109 years old on Thursday when the Ravens host the Rough Riders in a Week 1 matchup that opens up the season for both programs.
Ravenna leads the all-time series 54-51-3 and have won the rivalry’s last two games, holding claim to The Big R Trophy.
The award replaced the Millennium Cup, which was introduced in 1999 during one of the most competitive stretches in the rivalry’s history.
“I thought it would add a little extra to the rivalry if the schools had something more than bragging rights to battle for,” Madonio said. “Since it was near the turn of the century, I proposed to both schools that we start a rotating trophy, sponsored by my business Brimfield Insurance, to go to the winner each year.”
That trophy became The Millennium Cup. It was planned for a 10-year run, with the school owning the most wins, keeping the cup and retiring it.
And that would be the end of it.
“As luck would have it, at the end of 10 years, each school had won five games,” Madonio said. “So it was decided we would go one more year and at the end of regulation of the 11th game, the score was still tied. The game went into double-overtime before Ravenna prevailed.”
That set the stage for Madonio to introduce The Big R trophy.
“Both schools were so pleased with how the trophy was received that we decided to keep going in one form or another,” Madonio said. “I proposed The Big R trophy, and I commissioned a glass artist at Kent State to help me design and produce the trophy.”
The trophy is a solid glass football, with a large block R etched into the middle. On each side of the “R” is each school’s logo, with a Raven etched on one side and a Rough Rider on the opposite side.
“The R stands for many things. If you are from Ravenna, it stands for Ravenna Ravens. If you are from Kent, it stands for Roosevelt Rough Riders. But for everyone, it stands for the great rivalry that this game is,” Madonio said.
Madonio has played an integral part of the Captains Luncheon for quite some time now, joining the coordination of the event in 1999 and eventually moved it to NEOMED and expanded it beyond just the football players and head coaches.
“I wanted to upgrade the menu, recruited some top-notch speakers … and along with our partners, University Hospital and Portage Medical Center, it seems it has grown every year. We not only honor the football captains, but also the cheerleader and band captains, since the game is about all of them and not just the players.”
Tuesday’s featured speaker is retired Kent Roosevelt Hall of Fame coach John Nemec.
Like many, the rivalry holds a special place in Madonio’s life.
“It has always been special to me. Ever since I can remember,” he said. “I have recollections of my dad taking me to games when I was a little kid. It got more intense when I got to high school and it was the one name each year that everyone looked forward to.
“As an adult, I moved to Kent while attending Kent State,” Madonio added. “My children all attended Kent schools, including Kent Roosevelt, so I have been on both sides of the rivalry. I still have allegiances to both schools. This rivalry is so special because it is one of a kind. In its second century, it is one of the longest-running in the state and most likely in the country. Both sides boast generations of players who have participated. Many of the kids on the teams are related to their opponent. It is a true hometown rivalry.”