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In the Locker room: checking the stats

Four score and four years ago in days gone by a league was organized in this section of North Central Ohio. It lasted 26 years and involved eight schools. They played 414 football games, 630 basketball games, and 4 track meets.

In the beginning it cost 35 cents to get in a football game. At the end basketball season tickets were $4 for eight homes games, and single adult tickets were 65 cents and student tickets 35 cents at Ashland's home games. In the early days crowds were in the hundreds, but over the course of league history standing room only crowds were not uncommon.

The all-time NCO classic was Nov. 11, 1938, when the undefeated powers Galion and Shelby met at Heise Park in Galion. News services gave statewide attention to the game. The Cleveland Plain Dealer reported that 8525 people attended the game which was larger than the population of the town (8000). In a memorable game both sides had heroes. Appropriately the well-played game ended in a 13-13 tie, a co-championship, and undefeated football seasons for both teams. The record game in basketball was the 1922 Mansfield vs Ashland game at the Casino Park Coliseum in Mansfield, when 2500 fans from around the league saw the final game of that season.

The highest team scores in an NCO game were in football: Galion 84, Bucyrus 0 in 1944, and in basketball Ashland 88, Shelby 47 on Feb 4, 1944. For a season the highest scoring football team was the 1936 Mansfield Tygers with 161 pts (32.5 ppg), and Johnny Hallabrin (91) and Bill Distl (37) were the top two scorers in the league. The highest scoring basketball team was the 1943-44 Ashland team with 650 points (65. ppg), and their top three scorers finished 1st (Ted Jacobs), 2nd (Ruffy Harris), and 7th (Russ Geisinger) in the league.

The individual records in a game were: in football Bob Dove of Ashland scored 32 points against Mt. Vernon in 1943, and in basketball Dick Mulvaine of Marion scored 35 points against Bucyrus in 1943. The individual records in a season were: in 1936 Mansfield's Johnny Hallabrin scored 13 TDs and 13 Xpts for 91 points, and in 1943-44 Ashland's Ted Jacobs set the basketball scoring record with 229 NCO points.

The longest play in NCO football history was by Mt. Vernon's Bernard Lanning, who returned a punt 97 yards for touchdown against Bucyrus in 1944. The most total offense in a game was Mansfield's 520 yards against Marion in 1936. Two teams had the best defensive record for a season. The 1924 Galion team and the 1944 Marion squad both shutout every NCO opponent in those years. It should also be noteworthy to remember that the lower scoring basketball games before 1937 were influenced by the center jump after each basket. That year the rules were changed to the faster game.

Finally, the last one out of the locker room, who turns out the lights, was the coach. The first legendary coach in the NCO was Walter "Wig" Pfeifer. He was a great athlete at Galion on the 1916 point-a-minute team, and he scored 50 points in a basketball game. Pfeifer won three NCO football championship in four years at Galion (1921-24). After switching to Bucyrus in 1925 he led them to the top of the NCO and was known as the "Knute Rockne of Ohio HS football." His sixth year was a move to Ashland College as the head coach. His career was cut short when death called at age 31 in 1929.

The leaders in coaching championships were: in football J. Russell Murphy, who coached at Mansfield from 1925-39 won eight football crowns, and Dewey N. Bohyer won seven basketball championships at Marion. Murphy, also, won the NCO three times in basketball at Mansfield.

A noteworthy characteristic of the NCO was the neighborhood flavor of the league. It was not uncommon for former players to return to an NCO school. At Bucyrus Claude Sharer, Howard Nussbaum, and Alex Kish came back to coach the Redmen. Along with Wig Pfeifer, Fritz and Paul Mackey, and John Burnison came home to Galion to coach. Galion grad Deeke Edler coached at Bucyrus, and Larry Swackhammer switched from Mt. Vernon to Shelby.

Three Ashland graduates coached at other NCO schools, and all three won NCO championships. Fred McClintock (AHS 1921) led Galion to a 1931 basketball co-championship with, ironically, Ashland. Paul Curry (AHS 1920) coached at Shelby from 1925 to 1930, and his teams won a football and a basketball championship. Bill Query (AHS 1926) won two football NCO's between 1936 and 1941 at Shelby. One non-coaching and but friendly association was Ashland's Principal Julius Bohn. He was a 4-year baseball player, a 1915 graduate of Bucyrus High School, and an NCO league officer until the end.

When the final locker room door was closed on the NCO Friday Feb. 23, 1945, it was not the end of a quarter of a century of athletic relationships. In the post-NCO years many of these schools continued to schedule each other. Bucyrus, Galion, and Shelby have remained members of the Northern Ohio League until this time for almost 60 years. Galion and Ashland have played each other in football since 1979 and in basketball since the NCO days. Shelby and Ashland have played each other in football continuously since 1921. The Mansfield and Ashland basketball rivalry has been continuous since 1912, and their football teams renewed their clashes in 1971. Marion and Ashland have competed every year except the Cardinal Conference years (1960-87). Marion, Mansfield, and Ashland have been members of the Ohio Heartland Conference since 1987, but that league ends in 2003.

Even Delaware and Mt. Vernon have appeared on and off the schedules of their old NCO friends. Obviously their league affiliations and tournament competitions have drawn them to the South and their many Columbus-area opponents. However, that hasn't totally eliminated them from their northern neighbors in Marion, Galion, Mansfield, or Ashland.

As possibly the closing chapter to the NCO a Reunion for NCO athletes and associates has been scheduled for Sat. May 31, 2003 at Galion High School at 12 noon. Sportswriters and the media have been invited to interview and to hear some of the memories of the once glorious days of The Northern Central Ohio League from 1919 to 1945.