Today, Youngstown State’s football Penguins go up against Jacksonville State in the second round of the FCS Playoffs. It is great to see Youngstown back in championship contention. It was something we never saw during my years growing up in Youngstown and as a student at Youngstown State. Back then the competitive sports at Youngstown State were basketball and baseball under Dom Roselli.
Those were the “Dike” Beede days. It seems that Beede’s main contribution to football had nothing to do with winning. It was his idea to invent the penalty flag which was first used in a game between Oklahoma City University and Youngstown in October of 1941, at Rayen Stadium, where Youngstown played many of their games, even during the years we were students.
It’s not that there weren’t some players that went on to excel. Ed O’Neill perhaps made it the biggest. After playing for Beede, he went on to the Steelers, got cut in 1969, and then returned to Youngstown to pursue training in acting. He managed the Pub in Kilcawley when we were students before going on to Broadway, TV and Modern Family. While we were there, Ron Jaworski was the quarterback, known then and later as “the Polish rifle.” He went on to play for the Eagles and is still a sports commentator. Cliff Stoudt also was at Youngstown in the 1970’s before going on to play back-up to Terry Bradshaw with the Steelers. Ironically, Stoudt’s son Cole is currently an offensive assistant coach at Jacksonville State.
The closest we got to championships in our time at Youngstown was in 1974 when Ray Dempsey led the team with Stoudt at quarterback to an 8-1 record before losing in the first round of the playoffs. Dempsey went on to an assistant coaching job with the Detroit Lions the next season. For that season, I actually paid attention although few of us went to the games. There were often not many more people in the stands than on the field. Far more people in Youngstown went to high school games back then. The irony was that northeast Ohio is football country–all those sons of steelworkers! Thinking back, it just didn’t make sense that for so many years Youngstown State was uncompetitive.
Things got better after we left. Bill Narduzzi led them to a couple conference championships and a few playoff victories. But things really turned around in the Tressel years when they won four national championships and were runners-up twice before Tressel went on to coach at Ohio State. We live in Columbus and there were a lot of questions about Tressel but we talked about what he did at Youngstown. Sure enough, in 2002, he won another championship and went on to be the third winning-est coach in Ohio State history.
It was during this time that Stambaugh Stadium, also know as the “Ice Castle” was built. An internet search turned up no definitive answer to where this nickname came from except that the west side of the stadium represents the highest point in Youngstown, and in the blustery weather of late fall can be downright cold. It’s also fun to think of it as a place where the Penguins put their opponents on ice. Bleachers on the east side of the field added another 3,000 seats for a seating capacity of 20,630.
In his second season, current coach Bo Pelini has the Penguins in the second round of the FCS playoff. Here’s hoping that this marks the beginnings of a new winning tradition. Go Fighting Penguins!
Update at 5:40 PM Saturday, December 3, 2016. Youngstown State has just defeated Jacksonville State 40-24!