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Football takes rare back seat in Valley

March 28, 2009
By ED PUSKAS Tribune Chronicle Sports Editor

Our corner of Ohio most often expresses its sports personality through football. It has been that way going back almost a century.

Every so often, the Cleveland Indians steal the spotlight in October, but football ultimately rules for most of us. The Ohio State Buckeyes and even middling or downright awful Cleveland Browns teams seem better able to inspire passion in northeastern Ohio.

What about basketball?

Even the acension of LeBron James to his current position as King of the NBA hasn't been enough to usurp football's place in our hearts. The Cleveland Cavaliers could win an NBA championship in a couple of months, and more fans will be talking about the Browns.

The Mahoning Valley is no exception. We love sports, but forced to pick one, it's likely to be football. Whether it's high school football, college football or the NFL, we seem drawn to that 100-yard patch of grass - or FieldTurf - with goalposts at each end.

Many of our cherished memories involve football games and those who played in them. In Warren alone, there was Paul Warfield, the Browner brothers, Korey Stringer, Omar Provitt, Maurice Clarett, David and Daniel Herron, Mario Manningham and a host of others who starred here, in college or in the NFL. Harding, Western Reserve and John F. Kennedy have celebrated state championships over the years.

Travel to the far corners of Ohio - or beyond - and you'll run into someone who knows a little something about Warren football.

But while basketball always has been football's lesser-known little brother in northeastern Ohio and the Valley, Warren basketball appears on the rise.

The Harding basketball program's development has put Warren on the state's hoops map, despite the Raiders' 73-59 loss in a Division I state semifinal Friday at Value City Arena in Columbus. And forgive me for continuing to stress this point, but in reality, this should have been Harding's second consecutive state tournament appearance.

The Raiders were the Valley's last team standing this season, and although the program will lose a huge talent in guard Desmar Jackson, Harding coach Steve Arnold seems to have a great thing going. Everyone loves a winner, and Arnold and his staff have given Warren just that.

Harding's first state tournament appearance since 1966 - and the first appearance by a Warren team in the state tournament since Western Reserve went in 1989 - didn't work out the way the city would've liked, but the Raiders can take solace in the fact they were defeated by the best Division I team in Ohio. Columbus Northland, which beat Harding on Friday night, won a state title Saturday night with a 60-58 victory over Cincinnati Princeton.

Maybe a generation or two won't pass before Warren again is represented in Columbus. And maybe the Mahoning Valley has a new love.


Even Arnold says that's a stretch. But there is room in our football-mad hearts for basketball, especially for a team that wins its way to Columbus in March.

''The Mahoning Valley is always going to be a football area. That's never going to change,'' Arnold said. ''But I think you see when you can get a team from the Mahoning Valley to represent the area down here in the state tournament, you have great fan support. Poland had great support last year and we had it this year.''



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