Wednesday, December 01, 1999

Where did all the prep football titles go?

Cincinnati's big schools are 0 for last 12

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        On Dec. 5, 1987, Princeton running back Lamont Calhoun ran for 2 yards and a touchdown in the fourth quarter to lift Princeton over Youngstown Boardman in the Division I state championship football game.

        Princeton's title was the 12th big-school championship in 14 years won by a Cincinnati school. Fairfield had won the year before, Moeller the year before that.

        “I was coaching in the Cleveland area at the time,” LaSalle coach Jim McQuaide said. “People up there were wondering when it would end.”

        The answer, it turns out, was with Calhoun's touchdown.

        This will mark the 12th straight year that Cincinnati has failed to win a Division I state title. This year, for the fourth time in six years, no Cincinnati team has advanced to the final game.

        That's remarkable, given the way Cincinnati teams dominated the big-school division from 1975-87.

        “It's surprising, and it's a little disappointing,” said retired coach Pat Mancuso, who led Princeton to the 1987 title.

        Local coaches point to three major factors as the rea sons Cincinnati teams have not won:

        • The dominance of Cleveland St. Ignatius. Ignatius beat Princeton 10-7 for the 1988 championship, and won seven of the next eight titles.

        • The change in rules that kept Moeller, winner of seven titles, from drawing the players it had previously.

        • The decision to move the championship games north, first to Akron, then Canton, then Massillon.

        The first two factors are related.

        The Cincinnati archdiocese changed a rule in 1985, requiring a student to live within the parish boundary — not merely be a member of the parish — to be eligible to play sports. That hurt Moeller, which used to draw from a wider area.

        “Frankly, we haven't won one since,” said Steve Klonne, the Moeller coach since 1982.

        In Cleveland, St. Ignatius, as a Jesuit school, can draw from all over the city.

        “There's no doubt,” McQuaide said. “They have great location. It's near downtown Cleveland. There's good public transportation, so kids don't have a problem getting there. They have great facilities, and they have that great tradition. People are attracted to success.”

        McQuaide, who coached at St. I rival Lakewood St. Edward, recalls playing St. I when the Wildcats had four defensive linemen who had

        signed with Division I schools.

        “They were just a superior team during the 90s,” Fairfield coach Tom Grippa said. “It was like Moeller in the '70s and '80s. Gerry Faust had a lot of players who went to Notre Dame and then ended up in the NFL.

        “You've got to have the players.”

        Under the old Cincinnati rules, Moeller was accused of recruiting. These days, St Ignatius gets accused under the Cleveland rules.

        Klonne said that was not the case with Moeller.

        “I don't think that we recruited,” he said. “People want to go to a school that is successful. The tradition draws them.”

        St. Xavier, the local Jesuit school, can draw from all over the city. That's shifted the balance of the power toward the Bombers. Since 1992, St. X and Moeller have each gone to the state final game twice.

        That's brings up the third factor: Where the championships are played.

        Cincinnati teams have won seven of 10 state title games played in Cincinnati, Dayton or Columbus. Of the 17 title games played in Akron, Canton or Massillon, Cincinnati has won only four.

        “I think it's where the games are located, mainly,” St. Xavier coach Steve Rasso said. “We try to maintain a routine from the first game all the way through the year. When you play up there, you're on a bus for 41/2, five hours. You have to stay overnight.

        “The players' girlfriends and families are around. It throws off your whole routine.”

        Canton McKinley, which won the last two titles, and St. Ignatius can stay in their regular-season routine for a game in Massillon or Canton.

        Klonne doesn't think travel has much impact. Moeller won four of its seven titles in Akron's Rubber Bowl.

        “I don't think it's an overwhelming factor,” he said. “It doesn't determine who's going to win the game.”

        Still, Klonne and Rasso would like to see title games moved to Columbus. There has been talk of relocating to the Columbus Crew's new stadium.

        “I think that would be fair for everybody,” Rasso said.

        This year, it appeared Rasso's St. Xavier team might end the Cincinnati drought. The Bombers were ranked No. 1 in the state and beat St. Ignatius 50-33 during the regular season.

        But St. X was upset in the second round the playoffs by Huber Heights Wayne. Wayne will play St. Ignatius for the Division I title Saturday at 8 p.m.

        The Wayne saga brings up another point: With five games now required to win the state under this year's expanded format, you've got to get on a roll.

        “Wayne could have lost to Fairfield in the first round,” Mancuso said, “but they pulled it off. Then they got hot at the right time. You have to be ready to play at the end.”


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- Where did all the prep football titles go?