Friday, April 1, 2011

The City Series: And Then There Was One.

This is less of a rant than a sad goodbye. Last week, the Youngstown City School System announced a realignment of its education program. Youngstown schools as previously configured was a remnant system set up to serve a community of 200,000 people. With the closing of the mills and the de-industrialization of America's rust belt, the population of Youngstown began to drop, but the structure of the school system remained in place.

It was a complete system of neighborhood elementary, junior high, and high schools located throughout the city. High school names reflected Youngstown's quintessential hub-spoke layout: South High School, North High School, East High School...along with Wilson High School on the Southeast side, Chaney High School on the west side, and the Rayen (High) School also on the north side. Together with the two Catholic high schools, Mooney and Ursuline, these schools made up a powerhouse athletic conference called the City Series. Add in the Steel Valley Conference comprised of the suburban and outlying city schools, that's what made Northeast Ohio one of the top high school football meccas in the United States.

It was a big deal. South and Rayen High Schools had legitimate football stadiums that rival many colleges, along with athletic field houses. On any given Friday night, you could get up to 20,000 people crowding into these stadiums to see various cross town rivalries, the biggest of these being the Mooney/Ursuline game.

Going to those games was an event for me as 5th grader. Both of my parents graduated from South High School, and my Dad went to the games on a regular basis taking me with him. Everything seemed larger than life. It was like a movie. When I went to Boardman High School, a Steel Valley team, rivalries were built among my school and Chaney, Mooney an Ursuline. That is when football was fun.

As the city population decreased, so did the City Series. First Mooney and Ursuline left the City Series and joined the Steel Valley Conference. Then Youngstown began school consolidation first closing down North High School. Then it closed South High School and changed Rayen from a high school to a junior high school. Then it began a building program with the tobacco settlement money. Not only did close the schools, the system tore them down. It tore down Rayen. It tore down Wilson, along with several of the junior high schools and elementary schools.

And then there were two. Chaney on west side, and East on the east side. Both of these schools fielded their own athletic programs. But the money crunch continued...and then there was one. East will function as the primary high school in Youngstown, with Chaney becoming a specialty magnet school. The city schools will only field one athletic program. Students from Chaney wishing to participate will have to bus or drive to East High School...and they are a long way away from each other, literally on the fringes of both sides of the city.

When the school tear down program began it was suggested that Youngstown move to one senior high school located downtown. That idea died for several reasons, including the violence that is associated with the Youngstown Schools and visions of punks running around downtown after school, and school parochialism. You see, people from this area identify with their school until death. Their school identity never dies. You are where you went to school. Even if you move out of the will still be a Wilson graduate or Rayen or Chaney graduate. School ties are the ties that bind.

What the city school system is doing makes sense in these hard economic times. It should have been done years ago, but politics precluded the school board from doing what was necessary. Now it has no choice. With the city population at a mere 66,000, a good portion of which being senior citizens, it really can afford only one high school athletic program. But I feel bad as I think back on those days when my Dad would take me to see the games at South High School stadium. I feel bad as I remember thumbing through my parents' yearbooks and looking at those snapshots of life in 1936. I feel bad as I remember all of my cousins who went to Wilson High School. Good bye to the Chaney Cowboys; the South High Warriors; the Rayen Tigers; and the Wilson Redmen.  Time passes.

1 comment:

Lorans R. Jones said...

Nice, reflective farewell piece. I did not attend high school until the early 90s but my older siblings went to Rayen and Ursuline. I remember the rivalries and the atmosphere of friday nights when we would attend games at the high school or at YSU stadium. I did not know Ursuline and Mooney were part of the City Series. Interesting to find out.