NY, LA, Chicago, Pittsburgh and....Massillon?
That's right. Massillon, Ohio is in the running for ESPN's "Title Town". Competing with all the "big one's" based solely on their football program. No one, and I mean NO ONE takes their HS football as seriously as Massillon does. 7,000 for a Monday afternoon pep rally out of season? In the rain? C'mon!
Tiger fans roar for ESPN award Massillon serious about 'TitleTown USA' contest
By David Lee Morgan Jr.
Beacon Journal sportswriter
Published on Tuesday, Jul 22, 2008
MASSILLON: Heavy rains fell Monday afternoon upon Paul Brown Tiger Stadium, but the crowd of more than 7,000 orange- and black-clad fans never stopped feverishly cheering ''T-I-G (short pause) E-R-S!''
The rain was never an issue for the fans.
That's what community support in the city is and always has been about.
That's why fans feel they are ''TitleTown USA.''
ESPN and reporter Rachel Nichols rolled into Massillon to tape a segment for a contest that ''The Worldwide Leader in Sports'' will soon crown as TitleTown USA, the city which gets the most online votes.
And get this, among the other ESPN finalists are Chapel Hill, N.C., Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, New York, San Francisco, Pittsburgh and Detroit.
That's right, Massillon is right up there with some big-time cities.
Massillon fans can vote for their city on ESPN.com until Sunday. ESPN will announce the winner Monday.
How did Massillon make the cut? Hard work from residents who placed their ballots online because they believe their city and football program are worthy of the list. In fact, Columbus and Massillon are the only Ohio cities of the 20 finalists, which were judged on a community's pride, passion, performance (780 wins and 22 state championships), history and tradition.
Most Massillon fans say former Massillon and Cleveland Browns head coach Paul Brown, who started the Cincinnati Bengals franchise, is the father of football.
The 20 cities were determined by a combination of nomination from fans, ESPN production members, non-ESPN journalists and 12 SportsCenter anchors.
''I would have never expected anything like this, especially when you're talking about a city like New York, with
the Yankees,'' said Dave Sheegog, as he walked into the stadium with his family. Sheegog was a quarterback for the Tigers when they won state championships in 1964 and 1965 under head coach Earle Bruce.
''You're talking about a little ol' city in Stark County going up against pro cities like New York and Los Angeles with the Lakers,'' he said. ''That says a lot about the tradition of Massillon football and the community.''
Sheegog's son, Bryan, who was a wide receiver for the Tigers and graduated in 2007, said he learned from his father what it meant to be a Tiger.
''When people know who my father is, they always tell me about how good of a player he was,'' Bryan Sheegog said. ''So when I started playing, I just wanted to live up to the tradition that my dad and everybody else built.''
Bryan also mentioned that people thousands of miles away know about the Massillon mystique.
''I was in Las Vegas one year and I had a Massillon football shirt on,'' he said. ''A guy came up to me and said, ''Hey, I bet a lot of money on the Massillon-Canton McKinley game. And he said he had never been in Ohio in his life. People just know about Massillon football. That blew me away.''
Massillon football is also the Massillon Swing Band. The musicians take as much pride in their craft as the players do. Band parents are just like football parents.
Debi Smith is one of about 100 band parent volunteers who occasionally help inflate the 30-foot Obie the Tiger.
''This is absolutely a community event on Friday nights,'' Smith said. ''It takes everyone's involvement.''
Inside the stadium, fans old and young came out. Ardie Dumond, 68, didn't mind giving out her age, or revealing that she's been a Massillon supporter for more than 50 years.
But what was even more interesting was that Dumond had another so-called die-hard fan right there next to her. It was her pet Chihuahua, named Taco Bell.
And earnestly holding Taco Bell's leash in the first row of the stadium was 4-year-old Eva Taylor, decked out in a Massillon cheerleading outfit. Eva's grandmother is 68-year-old Donna Fulton, who has had season tickets for the last 45 years.
Massillon doesn't have big-city glitter, but the pageantry during football season is big-city caliber.
It's not a New York or a Los Angeles or a San Francisco. It's a town where Friday Night Football means a communal gathering of friends, past and present.
Meanwhile, the community pep rally at the stadium showed just what goes on during game day outside the stadium. Fans were tailgating outside their recreational vehicles, including Tom Gaston, who parked along with his usual RV neighbors.
''This is what we do,'' he said. ''It's not Friday, but if it was, this is what we do.''
David Lee Morgan Jr. can be reachedat firstname.lastname@example.org.
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