Stadium statue will honor hometown hero

WARREN – The city’s most-celebrated athlete will be honored Sept. 12 with the unveiling of a statue near the west stands just outside of Mollenkopf Stadium.

Paul Warfield, who grew into a talented football player at Warren G. Harding High School and later went on to Hall of Fame greatness in the NFL, will receive the recognition as part of “The Paul Warfield Project: A Hometown Tribute for a Hometown Icon.”

Warfield, a 1960 graduate of Harding, was a three-sport star in basketball, football and track in high school. He played halfback at The Ohio State University, where he was a three-year starter and an All-American.

Warfield played receiver for 13 seasons in the NFL, including eight in two stints with the Cleveland Browns. He played for the Miami Dolphins from 1970-74. Warfield was a member of the Browns’ NFL Championship team of 1964 and was with the Dolphins when they won back-to-back Super Bowls in the 1972 and ’73 seasons.

Warfield was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1983, which was his first year of eligibility.

The Warfield Project was spearheaded by high school teammate and Warren native Ray Yannucci and Anthony Payiavlas, president and CEO of AVI Foodsystems, Inc. Warren City Schools didn’t contribute financially to the project but have allowed for the placement of the display and, in addition, will name the street that runs from Atlantic Street to Elm Road in front of the school “Paul Warfield Way.”

Yannucci believes the statue is well-deserved and overdue.

“Paul is the most-celebrated athlete that this area has ever seen,” Yannucci said. “He’s the only major-sports Hall of Famer (in the area), so that tells you that something should have been done years ago.”

Following his athletic career Warfield worked in the broadcasting field and was a member of the Browns’ front office. He’s also done scouting work in the NFL.

Yannucci believes that Warfield the person is as impressive as Warfield the football player.

“You’ve never heard one bad word about Paul Warfield,” Yannucci said. “We’re talking about from opponents to coaches, executives to administrators, media, fans, etc. In my estimation, he’s been an outstanding ambassador for Warren, Ohio, and Warren G. Harding High School.”

The sculptor for the life-sized statue was Peter Pakalski of Nashotah, Wis. The exhibit will include double-sided granite panels chronicling different stages of Warfield’s career. Following the dedication a dinner reception will be held at 7 p.m. in the school cafeteria. Warfield will be honored the next night during halftime of the Harding Panthers Throwback Game against the Massillon Tigers.

The unveiling ceremony is free to the public. Tickets for the post-dedication dinner are $10 and can be purchased at the door. Other ticket locations will be announced at a later date.

The project is being made possible by community donations. Persons donating $500 or more will be invited to a pre-dedication VIP reception in the school library for a chance to talk to and have photos taken with Warfield.

Co-chairmen for the project are Payiavlas, Yannucci and Warren City Schools Athletic Director Paul Trina. Committee members are Nick Frankos, Kelli Keagy, Mike McLain and Steve Papalas.

Yannucci summed it up when expressing his admiration for a friend, teammate and an icon that will now be remembered for generations to come.

“I feel honored to be part of this,” Yannucci said. “I’ve been a big proponent of his for years. I’ve known Paul since we were in eighth grade. I’m not afraid to admit that he’s been an idol to me even though we were teammates and basically the same age.”

The long line that has formed behind Yannucci can now celebrate Warfield’s career and life with him.