Friday nights in the fall meant one thing in Youngstown, as in so many towns across the country–football! In a town where hard physical work was the life of many, the brawny contests on football fields across the city were an integral part of the culture.
It began with pep rallies on Friday afternoons. Then there was the special homecoming game after elections of the homecoming king and queen. Those were always the cool, good looking kids. I never stood a chance! But you found a group to go with to the games, cheered the team on, and avoided the fights that sometimes broke out after games between people from rival schools.
But the big thing was the rivalries. One of the most famous out of Youngstown was, and still is, the Cardinal Mooney-Ursuline rivalry. These are the two Catholic high schools in the city and to this day is one of the most celebrated high school football rivalries in Ohio. We tended to root for Ursuline, where kids from the West Side went who didn’t go to Chaney (except when they PLAYED Chaney). So wouldn’t you know it–I go and marry a Mooney girl!
Our big rival at Chaney was Austintown Fitch. The Fitch game was usually early in the year and a good bellwether for what kind of team we had. Chaney and Fitch were in different football leagues–Chaney was part of the Youngstown City League, and most of our games were against other Youngstown City high schools (this was in the day when there were six public high schools in Youngstown).
Lou “Red” Angelo was the coach I most remember. Mr. Angelo was also my gym teacher and his “no nonsense” approach and willingness to push guys hard probably contributed to the number of winning teams he produced. His son, Jerry Angelo, was a general manager of the Chicago Bears from 2001 to 2012. Ed Matey took over coaching the Chaney Cowboys in 1971, the fall of my senior year.
The death of the steel industry and population loss in Youngstown also led to the demise of the City League as four of the six high schools (Rayen, North, South, and Wilson) closed and Chaney became a STEM-focused school. Only East High School now has a football team.
The demise of the City League hardly spelled the end of football fever in Youngstown. The Browns-Steelers rivalry is still alive, with Youngstown the “no man’s land” between Cleveland and Pittsburgh. While City League football was waning, Youngstown State came alive under Jim Tressel, winning four Divisional National Championships and building Stambaugh Stadium on the near north side of Youngstown–a prominent feature of the Youngstown skyline.
Football is a tough, physical game and a team game where no one can slack. That somehow fits working class Youngstown. That toughness is one of the reasons I remain hopeful for Youngstown. Someone knocks you down, you get up, and make sure it is the other guy on the grass the next time.
What are your football memories? Who was your school’s big rival (no trash talking here!).
[Click “On Youngstown” on the menu bar to see an archive of all the posts in this series.]