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History Of The OHSAA

100 Years of the Ohio High School Athletic Association: 1907-2007

A centennial moment
By Timothy L. Hudak 
Sports Heritage Specialty Publications
4814 Broadview Rd.
Cleveland, Ohio 44109
The OHSAA From 1907-2007
     The earliest days of interscholastic athletics in Ohio’s high schools, most probably starting in the immediate post-Civil War years, were a bit disorganized, to say the least. Boys (girls would have to wait a while) from one school would get a team together and challenge the boys from a neighboring school. No coaches, no set schedule, no uniforms and probably no practices, either. As time marched on, more and more schools began to participate in these interscholastic sporting events, which most likely consisted mainly of track and field events or baseball in those earliest days. These activities were totally unsupervised by school authorities, many of whom felt that they had no place in a young person’s education. Some administrators went so far as to prohibit the contests altogether.
     However, as the popularity of these sporting events grew among Ohio’s high schoolers, as demonstrated by their spread to schools throughout the state, many school authorities began to feel a need to organize these interscholastic sporting events. The Western Ohio Superintendent’s Round Table took the lead in this movement as early as 1887, but nothing of any consequence was done about the situation for almost another 20 years. Finally, in October of 1906, the Round Table of the Central Ohio Teacher’s Association endorsed a plan that had been adopted by the Western Ohio Superintendent’s Round Table earlier that same year.  By this plan interscholastic athletics were formally made a part of Ohio’s high school landscape. As Paul E. Orr wrote in his 1956 history of the OHSAA, “renewed enthusiasm was aroused (in interscholastic athletics) and many, many schools all over the state entered the new organization with great zeal.” 
     The newly established Board of Directors, whose duty it was to supervise athletics across the state, held its first meeting on November 9, 1907, now recognized as the birth date of the Ohio High School Athletic Association. George R. Eastman of Dayton Steele High School served as president, with W.H. Rice of Chillicothe serving as secretary-treasurer and William McClain of London, S.H. Layton of Piqua and F.C. Kirkendall of Piqua also present. At its very next meeting, held on December 26, 1907, the Board of Directors set the date for its first championship event, a state track and field meet to be held on May 23, 1908, at Beaver Field at Denison University in Granville, Ohio. Over 100 athletes, representing 23 of the then 30 member schools, participated in the meet. North High School of Columbus amassed the most points and “won the loving cup which was awarded as a token of the championship of this, the first state-wide contest” of the Ohio High School Athletic Association. 
     The enthusiasm generated by that first event quickly spread across the state, and many more schools quickly joined the organization. 
     The next several decades saw the OHSAA continue to grow its organization, putting into place much of the “machinery” that would run the OHSAA on a day to day basis, as well as help to lay the foundation for future changes and expansion of its programs. By the mid 1930s the organization had become recognized as a highly respectable and influential organization on the state high school scene. One of the most significant changes in the organizational structure of the OHSAA took place in 1925, when the business affairs of the Association were transferred from the Board of Directors to a full-time commissioner. The first commissioner was Mr. Horace Raymond (H.R.) Townsend, who held that post from 1925 until his death in 1944. The current commissioner, the ninth, is Daniel B. Ross, Ph.D.
     Among the other areas to which the OHSAA directed much of its attention during these years were officiating and the overall health and well being of student-athletes.
     While the state track and field meet was very popular and remained an annual event, it would not be until 15 years later when the next state championship tournament was announced, that being for boys basketball. Boys golf was added to the “tournament trail” in 1927, with boys cross country, boys swimming and diving and baseball joining the tournament list in 1928. 
     Unfortunately, the young ladies of Ohio would still have to wait another five decades to participate in their first state-wide tournament. This had less to do with OHSAA policies and desires, and more to do with the overall question, in the public eye, of the advisability or inadvisability of the participation of young girls in interscholastic sports in general. A survey by the OHSAA of the state’s high schools in 1937 showed that 55 percent of the schools provided interscholastic basketball for girls, but that same survey also showed that 67 percent of the responding schools favored dropping the sport for girls. Based in part on this survey, interscholastic basketball for girls was discontinued at OHSAA member schools in 1940. This was the death knell for all interscholastic sports for girls, at least in Ohio. It would be another quarter century or more before interscholastic sports for girls once again became “popular,” and almost 35 years before state tournaments for girls made the scene.         Ironically, the OHSAA now sponsors 24 championship sports, 12 each for boys and girls. As the saying goes, “You’ve come a long way, baby!”
     The war years of 1941-45 provided some areas of particular concern for the OHSAA. First and foremost was whether or not the state tournaments, and athletics in general, should be discontinued for the duration of the war because of the restrictions placed on the general populace due to rationing. However, President Franklin D. Roosevelt and most of his administration urged that not only should the athletic programs be maintained, but that they be expanded as “a war defense measure.” The Board of Directors concurred, stating that “from a psychological standpoint, athletics in the face of the national emergency can be justified,” and the member schools were urged to continue their athletic programs as a patriotic duty.
     However, as the war dragged on, it became increasingly difficult to continue with interscholastic sports, much less expand them. Rationing of rubber and gasoline made the use of school busses for transportation to events almost impossible, and many schools were without their coaches, who were now serving in the armed forces. However, except for the state cross country meets in 1942 and 1943, all of the state tournaments went on as usual. 
     The situation started to return to normal on September 1, 1945, when the restrictions on the use of school busses were lifted. Coaches started returning to their schools the following spring when they were discharged from military service following the conclusion of the war.
In the years following WWII, the OHSAA dealt with many issues, a number of which had been tabled due to the war. These included such things as practice sessions, schedules, out-of-state play, length of seasons, etc. The question of allowing girls to participate in interscholastic sports again came up, with limited activity under very strict rules being granted – but still no state tournaments. By early 1956 less than half of the schools in the state were providing interscholastic sports opportunities for their female students.
     With the exception of wrestling in 1938, no new sports had been added to the OHSAA’s tournament list since the late 1920s (although boys gymnastics was held between 1926 and 1937, was reinstated in 1965 and dropped again after the 1994 championships). All of this changed during the decade of the 1970s, when the proverbial floodgates opened and 12 new sports were elevated to state championship tournament status, nine of which were girls’ sports. 
     The importance of this newfound recognition of Ohio’s female athletes not withstanding, the biggest of these new tournaments was that for football, which was established in 1972. This represented the third, and final, phase in how the state high school football champions were determined.  The first phase saw the state champion being declared by acclimation; that is, if enough football authorities (schools, newspapers, etc.) decided that a certain school was the champion, then it was pretty much accepted by one and all that they were the state champion. This process lasted between 1895-1946. In 1947 started the era of the “poll champions,” the winner being decided by a vote of selected newspaper writers and coaches from around the state, the vote being conducted by both the Associated Press (AP) and United Press International (UPI).       This system decided the “official” state football champion until 1972, when the state playoffs began. The AP poll is still conducted, but the officially recognized state football champions are those teams that win the title through the playoff process. While the number of football playing schools has not changed much since 1972, the playoff format has progressed from 12 total qualifiers in three classes to 192 qualifiers in six divisions.
     Only four sports have been elevated to state tournament status since 1985: girls soccer (1985), girls golf (1993) and boys and girls bowling (start of 2006-07 school year). There are several other sports that are currently being participated in by anywhere from a handful to over 100 schools. Among them are lacrosse, crew, boys volleyball and rugby.
Over the last several decades the OHSAA has continued to monitor high school athletics in the state, changing and amending the rules and regulations of the Association as needed. Its motto of “Respect the Game” places an emphasis on good sportsmanship, ethics and integrity when it comes to how schools, coaches, athletes and parents conduct themselves when participating in the arena of high school athletics. When needed, the OHSAA has not failed to act in levying penalties on those who violate these principles. The Association has also established many awards to honor those who uphold the highest standards of this motto, as well as for those who contribute to the betterment of the organization and athletics in Ohio’s high schools. In addition, the OHSAA grants over $100,000 annually in scholarships to deserving student-athletes to help further their education and athletic endeavors at the college level. 
     The Ohio High School Athletic Association is one of the oldest and most respected organizations of its type in the country. While it was established to organize high school athletics in Ohio, it is best known through the championship tournaments that it sponsors throughout the school year. With the schools divided by size into as many as six divisions, these tournaments give every student-athlete in the state a chance at winning a state title. At the bigger schools this helps to solidify the school’s family, while at the smaller schools, whole communities come together to cheer on and support their local athletes. 
     Perhaps, however, the true value of the OHSAA, what it has done in the past and what it strives to do into the future, is best stated as follows:
“The purpose of interscholastic athletics is to enrich a student’s high school experience; promote citizenship and sportsmanship; instill a sense of pride in community; teach lifelong lessons of teamwork and self-discipline, and help young people grow physically and emotionally. In short, interscholastic athletic programs are an extension of the classroom and exist to prepare students for the next level of life, not the next level of sports.”
Note: Former OHSAA Associate Commissioner Fred Dafler contributed to this article.

The History of The OHSAA

By Fred Dafler
The Ohio High School Athletic Association is a voluntary, unincorporated, not-for-profit association of public and private high schools and 7th-8th grade schools. During the 2010-11 school year there were 828 member schools. There were 798 member schools in the 7th-8th grade division.
The impetus for the founding of the Ohio High School Athletic Association came from the Western Ohio Superintendents Round Table as a result of discussions in the 1890's and early 1900's. At the March, 1906, meeting of the Round Table, a resolution was adopted to appoint a committee headed by George R. Eastman of Steele High School in Dayton.
The first meeting of the first Board of Control was held in Columbus on November 9, 1907, with George R. Eastman, Dayton, President; W.H. Rice, Chillicothe, Secretary-Treasurer; William McClain, London; S.H. Layton and F.C. Kirkendall, Piqua, present. On May 23, 1908, the first state championship sponsored by the OHSAA was held at Beaver Field, Denison University, Granville. The First State Track and Field Tournament involved over 100 entrants from 23 of the 30 member high schools. Columbus North was crowned the first champion with 19 points to 16 for Dayton Steele.
The OHSAA started with five districts in 1907, but soon changed to six districts in 1908.
The operation of the OHSAA is the responsibility of the Commissioner and his staff with offices located in Columbus. In addition to the Commissioner, there are seven other administrative personnel plus 12 full-time secretarial and clerical personnel.
Until 1925, the business affairs of the OHSAA were handled by the Board of Control officers. In 1925, H.R. Townsend was employed as a full-time Commissioner.
  • 1925-1944    H.R. Townsend
  • 1944-1958    Harold Emswiler
  • 1958-1963    W.J. McConnell
  • 1963-1969    Paul E. Landis
  • 1969-1977    Harold A. Meyer
  • 1977-1980    George D. Bates
  • 1980-1989    Richard L. Armstrong
  • 1990-2004    Clair Muscaro
  • 2004-2018    Dr. Dan Ross
As of 2016, the OHSAA sponsors state championships in 12 boys sports and 12 girls sports as a result of that humble beginning of one in 1908.