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Portage County celebrates 100 years of football

Portage County celebrates 100 years of football


By George Belden

Special to Portage Sports

If the history of Portage County football was written in biblical language, it might read something like this: The Portage County Conference begat the Portage County League, which begat the Portage Trail Conference, of which Mogadore reigns supreme in 2022.

But missing from that genealogy is the somewhat overlooked fact that 2022 is the Centennial year of league football in Portage County.

Yes, it was exactly 100 years ago that the Portage County Conference brought some order to gridiron competition in a predominantly rural county.

And, believe it or not, only two schools remain from that original configuration: Tiny Windham and powerful Aurora.

The rest of the schools have disappeared through consolidation over the succeeding century.

Those teams, whose towns remain although their schools are gone, are Atwater, Deerfield, Freedom, Garrettsville, Hiram, Mantua Station, Nelson, Ravenna Township, Shalersville and Suffield.

It was on Sept. 20, 1922, that the Ravenna Republican, the thrice-weekly newspaper that served the county, announced that W.H. Elsworth, the Assistant Superintendent of county schools, had created a complete schedule for 12 schools that fielded football teams.

“The plan is to start games at 3:30 on Friday afternoons, and then hold the school wagons at the field until after the game. That way, practically the entire student bodies of the respective schools will be able to watch the games and then be taken to their homes.”

Notice the use of wagons instead of buses!

Since some schools had already scheduled outside games, the 12 teams in the conference played between five and seven games against other county teams and at the end of the season, a conference champion was declared.

As was usual in those days, the start of the season would not begin until most of the harvests were in.

The season commenced on Sept. 29 and ran as late as Nov. 17.

The first week’s games demonstrated that there was an imbalance among the competitors.

Ravenna Township, Nelson and Hiram all won its opening tilts by three or more touchdowns, while Windham, Aurora and Shalersville all got blanked.

The following week, both Hiram and Nelson showed they were going to be forces — both topping 60 points. Hiram did this run spite of having to play with only 10 men, apparently because of an illegal substitution that caused an ejection.

Meanwhile, Atwater, despite scoring only three touchdowns in its first two games, showed the strongest defense in the league in winning both of its first contests.

In the third week, while most of the schools played games outside of the league, Hiram shut out Windham for the third week in a row.

The “college-town boys” moved to the top of the league standings with a 3-0 record, but the newspaper predicted the team’s tough contest against Garrettsville, which was scheduled to play its first league.

It was a good prognostication, as Garrettsville pounded out a hard-fought 7-6 win to scramble the standings. To further complicate things, Nelson and Deerfield managed a 0-0 tie, and Windham finally tallied a win over previously undefeated Atwater, leaving Ravenna Township and Garrettsville at the top with 1-0 records.

A county-wide trip to Niagara Falls canceled most of the next week’s games, but two of the league powerhouses, Nelson and Ravenna Township, rescheduled games to earlier in the week and crushed their opponents, giving a preview of how the rest of the season might play out.

As October gave way to November, the Ravenna Republican started to refer to A and B divisions of the conference. Ravenna Township, Hiram and Aurora were by far the largest schools, so the rest of the teams were relegated to a lower division, despite the fact that Nelson was destroying opponents by huge margins.

The first game of November demonstrated that there was indeed a quantum difference between the big schools and the small, as Ravenna Township walloped previously undefeated Garrettsville 44-0.

Meanwhile, at the other end of the standings, Freedom, which from week to week either played

badly or forfeited, again failed to score in their match against Aurora.

The final game of the season pitted 4-0 Ravenna Township against 4-1 Hiram in a battle of the big schools.

A 30-6 trouncing proved that the Township lads were indeed the crème de la crème of the conference.

The following Monday, 5-0 Ravenna Township was declared the A champion, while 5-0-1 Nelson, tied only by the “coalminers” of Deerfield, took the B championship.

One only wishes the two champions had been able to meet during the season.

In that same newspaper issue, 18 basketball teams were announced for the Portage County Conference.

The schools that had not fielded football squads included Paris, Brimfield, Charlestown, Edinburg, Mantua Village, Mantua Center, Rootstown and Streetsboro. Windham, which had no gym, still asked to be included, and Deerfield was undecided about sponsoring a team.

As a postscript to the county season, Ravenna Township and Ravenna City clashed on Thanksgiving Day.

Township won handily over the much larger city school, 7-0. Which leads us to wonder – how would that Ravenna Township juggernaut from 100 years ago fare against the Mogadore Wildcats of 2022?

It probably would be a battle for the ages. Who wouldn’t love to watch such a game, then ride the “wagon” back to their home school?


  1. Richard McManaway November 2, 2022

    Thank you George Belden for this great article. We’ll written, and very interesting. It was good to read the history of the town I grew up in.

  2. Christine Olah November 27, 2022

    I think that was a very interesting article, it was interesting to see how all the schools in the area came together to play football even though we were poor instead of driving a bus we had a wagon isn’t that something. That was the best article I’ve read in a long long time about Mantua thank you class of 1977


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