|A Tip-off to the League
Several factors influence the formation of early leagues in Ohio and particularly the NCO. The first consideration is the transportation system. By 1900 the railroad was the best way to travel. The Erie Railroad traveled through the heart of the NCO from Akron, Ashland, Mansfield, and to Marion. Up to the 1950's teams, bands, and fans between Marion and Ashland used the Erie.
In 1909 the interurban or electric car system known as the Cleveland-Southwestern line was opened. It ran through Ashland, Mansfield, Galion, and Bucyrus, and it reached its peak in 1921 with 18 daily runs. However, it came to an end in the early 1930's. On the western edge the CD&M (Columbus, Delaware, & Marion) interurban connected the SW corner of the NCO.
While a single mile of concrete highway could not be found in 1908 in the US, in 1912 the Lincoln Highway (Route 30 after 1932) was commissioned. By 1923 it was completed as a hard surfaced road through Ashland County. But during that time in 1920, Ashland did not have a single auto bus line to or from the city. Within three years six lines ran all four-directions with 24 daily routes in and out of the city.
Undoubtedly the city leagues had the advantage of public transportation with streetcars and later buses. The smaller communities were linked mostly by the railroads. As the interurbans, roads, and buses developed, the possibility occurred for a wider area of interscholastic competition. Available travel to the nearest opponents was a key to league alignments. For the NCO the Erie railroad, the Cleveland Southwestern line, and the Lincoln Highway ran side-by-side in many places. One Ashland train enthusiasts Bill Snyder can describe where all three ran parallel from Ashland to Mansfield. Also, the telephone line ran alongside the three transportation systems.
Fred Eichinger, who did Shelby's football history, related that he interviewed a player on the 1900 team. That player said, "We got to the games on a horse-drawn farm teamster wagon." The NCO was not that crude. In the 20's the Southwestern Interurban was the key route for teams and especially fans. Each car had a coal stove which provided marginal warmth in winter.
In the first NCO game of the Mansfield-Ashland basketball series the Mansfield yearbook credited their away victory to a car load of fans who cheered them to the win. The next year a hundred fans took the interurban to the Ashland game. In 1922 Mansfield scheduled the final game of the season at the Casino Park Coliseum. Ashland was given 350 reserved seats, and they brought two chartered CSW cars of 125 rooters. When representatives from the four neighboring NCO schools swelled the crowd to 2500, it became the largest basketball crowd in NCO history.
As new gyms appeared by the middle of the decade, the frenzy for visiting tickets grew, also. In the 1924 championship game at the Mansfield YMCA Ashland was given 100 tickets of the 1000 seats for fans. In 1926 when Ashland played at Bucyrus in the championship game, there were 278 ticket requests for the 50 available spots on the Special CSW car to the game. When Mansfield was to come to the Ashland armory, Coach Barnhart made an appeal that Ashlanders buy up all the tickets, and he made a plea that they sell none of them to any Mansfield fans.
In the 1930's the interurban was closed because auto and bus transportation was more common. The motor bus could carry up to 35 passengers. If the school district did not have one, it could be rented from a local company. Nevertheless, some parents were only able to see their kids play at home on Saturday afternoons for lack of a family car.
A second factor that influenced the development of sectional leagues and particularly the NCO was the invitational basketball tournaments. The OHSAA did not have a state playoff format until 1923. Every part of the State had invitational tournaments which were held in the larger college gyms. The Ohio Wesleyan gym (Edward's) at Delaware was the largest in the Ohio. Starting in 1909 with nine schools and growing to 172 teams until it closed in 1922, they had the post-season tournament that eventually the OHSAA recognized as the state championship. Mansfield won it the first year, and Delaware won it twice. In the final year Mt. Vernon defeated Delaware in the finals. All three teams became NCO members.
The first week of March of 1919 the Delaware Invitational
was held. The first week of the next month, April, Mansfield held a meeting
with the six schools that formed the North Central Ohio League. What motivation
was behind it is probably lost to history, but one fact is clear. All
six schools played in the Delaware Invitational basketball tournament
that year. One can only surmise that league discussions occurred at that