|The Opening Plays:
The North Central Ohio League, popularly referred to as "The NCO," was born in Mansfield on Sat. April 5, 1919. The six charter members were: Ashland, Bucyrus, Delaware, Galion, Marion, and the host school Mansfield. Their plans included governing football and basketball. Each high school was expected to play at least four football games in the league, and a basketball schedule with six league opponents including every school once and one team twice. At the end of the season a trophy or cup was awarded to the winner. The final standings were to be determined by the highest winning percentage. Also, baseball was to be considered at a later date. (They made an attempt in 1924, but there were not enough teams for a league schedule.)
The six high school principals made up the governing board, and they made all the decisions on the league. At their second meeting in Marion on Sat. September 13th the Mansfield Principal Frank Whitehouse was elected President, and Ashland's Principal Ralph D. Richards was chosen as the league secretary. Kora H. Marshall was Marion's Principal and NCO board member until 1941.
A major concern of the league coaches was impartial officials. It was decided that the umpire and referee must reside in a neutral city. Every town submitted names of officials, who were available to the other league schools. The officials from Ashland were: Coach Barnhart, their former head coach Paul Ganyard, and local-time YMCA director Stuart Martin. The referees from Ashland were: the same three plus Harry Matthews, the AHS baseball coach.
Meanwhile, on the other hand, Shelby's desire for membership was turned down. They had no gym and a cow pasture for a football field, but they still played many of the NCO schools in football. In 1925 when they proudly moved into their new high school with a new gymnasium, Shelby was admitted to the NCO league. In 1928 they dedicated W.W. Skiles Field with a seating capacity of 4,000 fans. It was the finest stadium in the area, and one of the best in the State. Nevertheless, the Mansfield people still referred to the northern Richland County school by the disparaging term of the "bordertown."
As with any conference problems always occur, but with the NCO it happened immediately with the first two football seasons. The league had not decided how to handle ties even though it was not a factor in the 1919 season. Delaware won their first two NCO games with Bucyrus and Galion. In a non-league game with Newark a Delaware player, Ray Kelsey, died from injuries sustained in the game. Delaware canceled the rest of the season. Consequently, Ashland, Mansfield, and Marion did not play the fifth league game.
A second circumstance occurred when Bucyrus after defeating Galion 31-0 in their league game agreed to play at Galion in a fill-in contest on an open date for the two schools. On a sloppy field Galion pulled a 6-0 upset. When Bucyrus defeated Marion 12-0 the Bucyrus News-Forum declared their hometown team the champion. However Marion disputed the claim by using the percentage system which gave them the better record 3-1 (.750) to 4-2 (.667) even though they had not played Delaware.
As late as the February 1920 league meeting in Galion the issue had not been resolved. It was announced that the season was "a no championship affair." The league, also, decided that in the future they would use two points for a win and one point for a tie to select the football champion. Marion was not at the meeting. Eventually it was decided that the two Delaware games would not count toward the league standings. Thus Bucyrus (4-0) became the champions over Marion (3-1).
The second NCO football season was not without controversy either. Mansfield's QB Oster was the star of their 14-13 Thanksgiving Day victory over Ashland. However, it was revealed that he had played for Piqua HS earlier in the Fall, and he was an assistant PE director at the YMCA.
League officials held a hearing in Galion (Sat. Jan. 8, 1921). Bucyrus Principal Simpson was the chairman. After hearing the report they declared Oster ineligible and forfeited the game to Ashland (1-0). Mansfield Principal Whitehouse did not protest the decision. Also, the league said that this action did not hinder Oster's eligibility on the Mansfield basketball team.
One other rather unruly incident happened at Galion March 7, 1924. Visiting Bucyrus was trying to clinch at least a tie for the NCO basketball co-championship with Ashland. During the 3rd quarter of a close contest Galion's star player Schreck was knocked to the floor by the Bucyrus players. A Bucyrus fan struck him a terrific blow on the eye. Fans rushed the floor. When order was restored Schreck was unable to finish the game.
Bucyrus won the game 19-18 for their second one-point victory over Galion that season. The wrath of the home fans was so high that it was necessary for the police to escort the Bucyrus players from the gym. The Galion Enquirer reported that the "contempable fistic demonstration" and "poor sport conduct" would threaten their future contests with Bucyrus.