TIGER LEGACY: STORIES OF MASSILLON FOOTBALL
Tiger Legacy: Stories of Massillon Football is a community storytelling project that includes images and first-person narratives of all those who contribute to the Massillon, Ohio, high school football experience: the players, the coaches and staff, the principal, members of the Tiger Swing Band, the cheerleaders, the Pep Club, the Orangeman, the Sideliners, the Touchdown Club, the Tiger Moms, the mayor, the season ticket holders, the orange and black-clad fans, and the beloved mascot, Obie, the live tiger cub. The story of Massillon football can be seen in the extraordinary ways that the community comes together to support its Tigers season after season, generation after generation.
Tiger Legacy is rooted in a more than one hundred-year history that traces back to the origins of the sport. While football was not created in Massillon, it took root there in ways that popularized the game. The rivalry between Massillon and the nearby Canton McKinley Bulldogs began in 1894 and is considered among the greatest high school football rivalries in the United States. Both teams are in the top ten nationally for total team victories, and historians believe the rivalry had a key role in the evolution of pro-football. The American Professional Football Association was formed in Canton, Ohio, in 1920 and a few years later, it would become the National Football League. In 1963, the Pro Football Hall of Fame was established in Canton.
Tiger Legacy is a community storytelling project that explores the culture of high school football and the connection between a community and its team. This connection is unique to Massillon because of the intense and widespread community support over the decades and the distinguished team history that traces back to the origins of the sport.
The Massillon Tigers have won 24 state championships, compiled 822 total victories (the third most victories in the United States) and completed 23 undefeated seasons and nine scholastic national championships. The rivalry between Massillon and Canton McKinley spans over 100 years and is still considered by many to be among the greatest high school rivalries in the United States. Both teams are in the top 10 nationally for total team victories, and historians believe professional football was born out of the rivalry between these two schools.
The tradition of the Massillon Tigers is well known by those who follow high school football. But for many, this knowledge is centered primarily on statistics and records that do not depict the integral connection of the team to its community. The continued dedication and commitment of the fans over the decades has come to define “Tiger Pride.”
Far removed from the game action and cheering fans, the Tiger Legacy project focused on images that depict commitment, connection, and a cultural experience that is unique to Massillon.
In October of 2011, Alexandra Nicholis Coon, Executive Director of the Massillon Museum, contacted freelance photographer Gary Harwood about the possibilities of collaborating on a visual project that depicts the Massillon High School football Boosters. After several meetings, that original idea evolved into a long-term community storytelling project on the Massillon Tiger football team.
Although a documentary film had been made on the Tigers, it was determined that a long-term photographic project had not been created on the historic program. This was a unique opportunity for both parties. The rich history, community pride, and cultural importance connected with Tiger football in Massillon made for a unique visual experience. But it also became an ideal project to develop long-term goals for each of the collaborators.
Nicholis Coon believed it was essential for the Massillon Museum to embrace its history and merge art and football in a way that was artistic while also preserving the history of one of the most storied high school football programs in the United States. The result is two exhibitions: a photographic portrait display highlighting the Massillon Tiger Football Boosters and another dedicated to capturing the overall theme of the Massillon Tigers legacy.
Harwood wanted to create a unique teaching experience by merging his long-term community storytelling projects with educational opportunities for students. He wanted to create a collaborative experience that was determined by the story dynamic and not by the boundaries of a traditional classroom. In essence, students take on the role of apprentice, working side by side with teachers and industry professionals to develop the story. It cannot be replicated in the classroom because it is an organic experience that offers a deeper understanding of discovery, access, and immersion.
The result is a unique collaboration that merges diverse talents and specific interests into one singular goal: to capture the history and culture that is Massillon Football.