This season, Ohio high schools are playing a trio of football games before Labor Day but it won’t be every year. In 2024 that number will be two. This OHSAA choice depends on how Thanksgiving falls and how that influences the beginning of basketball season.
Prior to 1978, no regular season football was played before Labor Day but that has evolved, largely due to playoff expansion. When the playoffs began in 1972, only a dozen schools qualified statewide. That number is now 448, or more than 60 percent of those who play the sport. That’s why football now has the early start and extends into December.
The 2022 gridiron postseason will begin on Friday, Oct. 28 with two weekends of contests hosted by the higher seeded teams. Then come three weekends played at neutral sites like Sidney, prior to the finals in Canton.
JC TV connection
I always enjoyed the detective drama “Vegas” (1978-81) which I’m pleased is back in resyndication via H&I television on Tuesdays. This was one of many TV and movie starring roles for the late Robert Urich, who was a 1964 graduate of Toronto High School in eastern Ohio. Urich was a classmate of retired Jackson Center boys basketball coach and administrator Jerry Harmon, who was at the helm when the Tigers won the memorable 1985 state title. Jerry’s future wife Jean was also in the same class.
Last weekend I asked Jerry for some memories of Urich who died of cancer at age 55. He responded quickly and enthusiastically. “While we weren’t close, I called him a good friend. We were in many activities together including sports. He was always in the school plays and had an older brother who worked on Broadway.”
Urich navigated from Toronto to Florida State University on a football scholarship. It was there that he became acquainted with an alumnus and noted actor who recognized his potential and wanted to help. “Burt Reynolds took an interest in Bob and got him connected with a Dr. Pepper commercial which really got him going,” Harmon recalled. Reynolds convinced Urich to move to Los Angeles to fully pursue his acting career.
Robert Urich didn’t forget where he came from. “He was a semi-regular at our class reunions who was genuinely happy to see his classmates. It was around reunion number 30 that our former basketball coach attended and announced that he wanted to be photographed with Bob Urich and Jerry Harmon, a TV star with a state champion coach.”
Word of Urich’s passing at a relatively young age hit Harmon hard. “I remember when I got the news. I had retired from Jackson Center and was the elementary principal at Riverside. It was tough. Bob Urich was a great guy.”
Toronto has about 5,500 residents on the Ohio River at the West Virginia border and less than 50 miles west of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Former Shelby County area football and basketball coach Dave McFeely was a 1966 Toronto graduate.
Sports Extra appears each Friday. Dave Ross was a radio broadcaster for all of Jerry Harmon’s Jackson Center coaching tenure, beginning for both on the same November night in 1976 in the old JC gym.