Football has always been big in Ohio. The Ohio League, which ran from 1902-1919, was a direct precursor to the NFL. Many people know about Ohio League teams like the Massillon Tigers and Canton Bulldogs, where Mansfield Senior High School Alum Pete Henry played, but for a few years in those two decades Shelby, Ohio drew some of the largest names in the sport. In 1909, in front of 4,000 fans, the Shelby Blues lost the state championship to the Akron Indians by a score of 12-9 at Nolan’s Park in Akron, Ohio. The 1909 Shelby team featured athletes such as player-coach George Watson “Peggy” Parratt, who, a few years earlier, was the first college player to be disciplined for moonlighting as a professional. Parratt admitted playing for Shelby under the name Murphy and hiding his identity under a large nose guard. Parratt is also credited with completing the first forward pass in a professional game when it was legalized in 1906. While playing for Massillon, Parratt completed a pass to Dan “Bullet” Riley in a victory over Benwood-Moundsville. Also playing for Shelby was Homer Davidson. Davidson, who played 6 games for the Cleveland Naps (later named the Cleveland Indians) in 1908, was regarded as one of the best kickers of his era. In 1910, Davidson would play with the Shelby Tigers and become their star player. Parratt would stay with the Blues and that year Shelby would have not one, but two championship teams.
The first game of the season on October 2, 1910 pitted the Shelby Tigers against the Mansfield Independents. The Independents were better known as the local baseball team, but, like many organizations at the time, they played other sports, including football and basketball. The Independents were soundly defeated 21-0, as they had not yet practiced and had made up a list of hand signals on the way to the game. The Mansfield players would merge with the Shelby Blues about three weeks later and the team would briefly be known as the Shelby-Mansfield Blues. The Shelby Blues would play their first game a week later, October 9, defeating the newly formed Cleveland Hinkles 5-0. The following week the Shelby teams would again roll over their opponents, with the Tigers beating the Broadway Athletic Club (Cleveland) 23-0 and the Blues defeating Norwalk 28-0.
The first vulnerability came the following week, October 23, when the Blues traveled to Canton to play the Canton Simpsons. The teams fought to a 6-6 tie, with the blues scoring on an interception which was run back for a touchdown. In 1910 touchdowns counted for 5 points with 1 for an extra point. The Tigers were scheduled to play Toledo Athletic Club, but Toledo canceled. Smith Athletic Club (Cleveland) stepped up and was defeated by the Tigers 38-0. The next two weeks saw more victories where the opposition was unable to score against the Shelby teams. The Blues defeated the Canton Tigers (21-0) and the Hinkel Athletic Club (24-0). The Tigers escaped the Akron Tigers (8-0) and defeated the Cleveland Lyceum (24-0). The Tigers would finish their season with two more victories over East Toledo (47-0), where Davidson returned a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown and scored two other times, and the Cleveland Hinkels, a combined team of the Hinkel Athletic Club and the Cleveland Lyceum (11-0). The Shelby Tigers finished the season 7-0, not allowing the opposition to score a point.
The Shelby Blues’ final two games of 1910 pitted them against the Akron Indians, the defending state champions, in two close contests. On Saturday, November 12, the Blues arrived in Cleveland and had a secret practice before going to Akron the following day to play the undefeated Indians. Before the game, the Akron team had said there wasn’t a team in the state who could defeat them. As the game progressed, word was sent to Shelby via telephone and at halftime Akron was winning 0-6. In the second half, Shelby would score 16 unanswered points to defeat the Akron Indians 16-6. When the Blues returned home at 10 o’clock that night, they were met with a band and a large crowd of supporters. On Thanksgiving Day, the Shelby Tigers were scheduled to play the Akron Indians, but Akron backed out and challenged the Blues to a rematch in Akron, which the Blues accepted. The Tigers’ manager, Bert Heath, was unhappy with the decision and, in the November 15 edition of the Shelby Globe, wrote a letter calling it “an underhanded proceeding of the Akron Indians and Shelby Blues” and challenging the Blues to a game on November 20. Local business owners even offered to put up money to have the two teams stay in Shelby and duke it out on Thanksgiving Day. It was reported The Mission, The Wonderland, and the Princess Theaters offered $100 each if they could “take their machines out there and get a moving picture of the event.” There was no game on the 20th and both teams prepared for their Thanksgiving Day match-ups.
Heavy rain on Thanksgiving Day 1910 made the contest between the Akron Indians and the Shelby Blues a muddy affair. It was reported 3,000 fans attended the game, but many more would have been there if the weather had been better. Many times Shelby was close to scoring but fumbled the ball before crossing the goal line. In the end, they squeaked out an 8-5 victory over Akron in the rematch. The Shelby Globe stated in separate columns that both teams were state champions after their Thanksgiving Day victories and a game was scheduled for December 4 to determine the true champion. It was agreed that each team would split the ticket sales 50-50, that being how players were paid at the time. Parratt wrote from Cleveland saying the winner should receive 75 percent and the loser 25. The Tigers agreed to this, but for some unknown reason, the Blues pulled out of the contest. Nothing else was reported on the matter. Since a champion was never crowned, both teams are credited with being state champions in 1910.
The following year, the Blues and Tigers resolved their grievances and merged, keeping the name as the Shelby Blues and putting Parratt and Davidson on the same team. They won the 1911 state championship by forfeit when Harry Turner, captain of the Canton Professionals, the revived Canton Bulldogs, got so upset about an offside call that he refused to finish the game and walked off the field. Turner vowed never to play again but came back to the game in an effort to defeat Parrott. Three years later, Turner would defeat Parratt, who was then coaching the Akron Indians, but in a twisted turn of events, Turner’s back was broken in the game after making a tackle on Akron fullback Joe Collins. Turner died, the first player to die from injuries received during a game. It was reported on his death bed Turner said “I know I must go, but I’m satisfied, for we beat Peggy Parratt.”
- Page 2 of Daily Globe, published in Shelby, Ohio on Monday, November 15th, 1909
- Page 1 of Shelby News, published in Shelby, Ohio on Friday, December 8th, 1905
- Page 1 of Daily Globe, published in Shelby, Ohio on Friday, November 18th, 1910
- Page 3 of Daily Globe, published in Shelby, Ohio on Thursday, December 1st, 1910