By John Gillis
Under the expert administration of the Ohio High School Athletic Association (OHSAA), the state of Ohio offers outstanding spring state tournaments in unique venues in both the sports of baseball and softball.
The baseball state tournament is held at Huntington Park in downtown Columbus, while the softball championships are played in Firestone Stadium in Akron.
Huntington Park’s regular tenant is the Columbus Clippers, which is the Class AAA affiliate of the Cleveland Indians. Prior to being purchased by the Indians organization a few years ago, the Clippers were the New York Yankees’ Class AAA affiliate for many years.
The stadium opened in 2009 and was voted the minor league ballpark of the year in 2010. A beautiful and modern stadium with the skyline of Columbus looming beyond its outfield, Huntington Park seats 11,000.
In addition to hosting the OHSAA baseball state tournament, Huntington Park formerly hosted the Big Ten Conference baseball tournament, which has since moved to Target Field in Minneapolis and then to Omaha. A few years ago, the OHSAA signed a 10-year extension of its contract with Columbus, which makes it among the longest state tournaments contracts the OHSAA currently has in place. As such, the OHSAA plans to hold its state tournament at Huntington Park for many years to come. With those long-term thoughts in mind, through the office of minor league baseball, the Clippers annually schedule themselves to be out of town during the weekend of the OHSAA state baseball tournament.
| Jerry Snodgrass
According to Columbus Clippers President and General Manager Ken Schnacke, Huntington Park and the OHSAA have enjoyed an outstanding professional relationship over the years.
“Huntington Park is very proud to host the OHSAA baseball state tournament,” Schnacke said. “Huntington Park has become a destination stop for people visiting Columbus, and the park continues to win awards and generate wonderful comments from fans and players alike.
“In addition to back-to-back Governors' Cup and back-to-back Triple-A National Championships won by the Clippers in these first four seasons, Huntington Park is proud to host many other non-Clippers events and the OHSAA baseball state tournament is not only one of the best, but it is certainly one of our favorite events to have here. It is indeed a pleasure and an honor to be able to give the state’s best high school baseball teams the opportunity to play for their state championships in our beautiful ballpark. It seems as almost every year this tournament continues, that we set a new record for the most fans to ever watch a high school baseball game. We look forward to being partners for many, many years.”
“It is such a blessing to be able to play our baseball state tournament in one of the most prestigious facilities in the country,” said OHSAA Assistant Commissioner and baseball state tournament administrator Jerry Snodgrass. “It’s an absolute thrill for the student-athletes, schools and communities to advance to Huntington Park, which does a fantastic job of welcoming us each year and hosting the state tournament.”
Cincinnati Elder has both the most OHSAA baseball state tournament appearances with 20 from 1943 to 2010, and the most state titles with 12 from 1943 to 2005. Reading, Newark Catholic and Cincinnati Archbishop Moeller are tied for second with six titles apiece. Cincinnati Elder (1958 to 1960) and Newark Catholic (2002 to 2004) share the Ohio state record of three consecutive baseball state titles.
Among the standout OHSAA state tournament individual performances, Joe Tann of Canton Central Catholic was the winning pitcher in six of the eight tournament games for the Crusaders in 2011, including the regional semifinal, regional final, state semifinal and state championship game; Kyle Seeger of Reading hit a home run in four consecutive tournament games spanning the 2010 and 2011 seasons; and Sam Shafer of New Washington Buckeye Central and Lance Horner of Rittman each threw 10 shutout innings in a 2011 Division IV regional semifinal. Rittman won the game, 2-1, in 11 innings.
The Ohio state record for attendance at a baseball game occurred when approximately 8,000 fans watched the 2010 OHSAA Division II state championship in which Plain City Jonathan Alder beat Cuyahoga Falls Walsh Jesuit, 3-2. The game was originally scheduled for Saturday, but rain postponed it until Sunday evening, which allowed more fans from Plain City and the surrounding communities to attend the game.
The state tournament record for attendance at all sessions (state semifinals and finals, all divisions combined) also occurred in 2010, when 17,632 fans filled Huntington Park. The second-best attendance of 15,934 occurred in 2012, also in Huntington Park.
On the other end of the historical spectrum, Firestone Stadium dates back to the early 1930s and was a baseball stadium for decades before being converted to a softball stadium. An all-brick stadium with a roof that covers some of the grandstand, its fans often feel like they’ve been transported back to that bygone halcyon era when they walk inside. Despite its age, the facility is still in good shape.
Among the luminaries to grace this historic ballpark was legendary New York Yankee Babe Ruth, who attended one of the dedications. Firestone Stadium has a series of photographs of Ruth in its Hall of Fame area that is located behind the third base-side seating.
In addition to holding one of the OHSAA regional tournaments and its state softball tournament there, the Akron Racers (a women’s professional fast-pitch softball team) play in Firestone Stadium, and the Mid-American Conference also conducts its softball tournament there.
Firestone Stadium is named after the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company, which is a subsidiary of the Bridgestone Corporation and is perhaps best known for manufacturing tires for automobiles and other forms of wheeled transportation. The company was founded in Akron in 1900, and it still has a huge plant there, along with some of it headquarters offices.
“I have to believe that there aren’t many high school softball state tournament venues in the United States that match Firestone Stadium in Akron,” said OHSAA Assistant Commissioner and softball state tournament administrator Roxanne Price. “While all of our state tournaments are special, having our softball state tournament in Firestone Stadium creates an unforgettable experience for the schools and fans.”
“In the summer of 1925, Harvey Firestone opened a ballpark in Akron, Ohio. More than 80 years later, its rich history and prestigious heritage are timeless,” noted Akron Mayor Don Plusquellic. “Each year, crowds of more than 10,000 come and enjoy watching 16 of the best girls high school softball teams representing four divisions throughout Ohio. We are proud to support a high school sporting event of this magnitude.”
| Dr. Dan Ross
With nine titles from 1978 to 2005, Akron Springfield has won the most OHSAA softball state championships, and also holds the record for most consecutive softball state titles with four in a row from 1992 to 1995. Tallmadge is the leader with 14 state tournament appearances and ranks second with seven state titles. Springfield also holds the record for most consecutive softball state titles with four in a row from 1992 to 1995.
The state tournament record for attendance at all sessions (state semifinals and finals, all divisions combined) of 10,284 occurred in 2009 at Firestone Stadium. It eclipsed the former record of 9,246 set the previous year at the same site.
“Our baseball and softball state tournaments have so much history and tradition associated with them, and having them hosted by great facilities like Huntington Park and Firestone Stadium adds even more magnitude to that weekend every year,” said OHSAA Commissioner Dr. Dan Ross. “Both facilities and the cities of Columbus and Akron do a great job hosting those two state tournaments and we hope that generations of baseball and softball players will get the opportunity to play there for a state championship.”
John Gillis is the associate director of publications and communications of the NFHS. If you have any comments or articles ideas, please forward them to Gillis at firstname.lastname@example.org