By Rick Palsgrove, Groveport Editor
The Mid-Eight League only lasted 24 years, but I still remember it and I am sure others do, too.
These days the 32-team Ohio Capital Conference dominates the Central Ohio area by its sheer number of teams. There are not many leagues remaining in the area that contain a small number of teams.
There was a time in the early to mid-20th century when local high school athletic leagues were compact and numerous. Leagues like the Franklin County League, Metro League, Mid-Ohio Conference, the Central Ohio League, the Central Buckeye League, and the Mid-Eight League all had their days in the sun. One could argue the Franklin County League was a forerunner of the Ohio Capital Conference as it had more teams within it than other conferences of that era and many teams that were once in the county league are in the OCC today.
Mel the basketball
Because I grew up in Groveport in the 1950s, 1960s, and early 1970s, I have fond remembrances of the now defunct Mid-Eight League. In its heyday it was a conference consisting of mostly one high school, far flung small farm towns.
A few of us kids back then used the league’s initials to call it the “Mel,” but our uncool efforts failed and the nickname did not catch on with anyone. However, I remember writing the name, “MEL,” in big letters, along with a drawing of a crazy grinning face, on one of my basketballs, in honor of the Mid-Eight League.
I used Mel so much – mostly on the long gone basketball courts behind Groveport Elementary – that I wore the grain and grin off the ball’s surface. As Mel’s name and face wore away, I always drew them back on. Mel finally got so smooth and slippery I had to retire him. I did not have the heart to throw him away until decades later and I still feel bad about it.
Evolution of the Mid-Eight League
The Mid-Eight League originally began in 1950 as the Mid-Six League made up of the Grove City Greyhounds, Hilliard Wildcats, London Red Raiders, Marysville Monarchs, Westerville Wildcats, and Worthington Cardinals. Though I have tried, I have never been able to find information on why these schools decided to band together in their own league. So, if any other old timers out there can shed any light on the league’s founding feel free to share it with me.
Worthington left the league eight years later to rejoin the Franklin County League, but that did not deter the league as it expanded in 1958 to become the Mid-Eight League with the additions of the Groveport Madison Cruisers, Gahanna Lincoln Golden Lions, and Mifflin Cowpunchers.
This eight team configuration would last 10 years until 1968 when the newly created Ohio Capital Conference lured Gahanna Lincoln and Westerville away. The Mid-Eight League plugged the gap by adding the Bexley Lions and Grandview Bobcats.
Grandview and league charter member Marysville left in 1972 for the Metropolitan League and were replaced by the Urbana Hillclimbers, leaving the Mid-Eight as a seven team league. Mifflin then exited the league in 1973 to join the City League.
Though the name Mid-Eight League remained, the conference had gone full circle and in 1973-74 once again became a six team league, just as it began in 1950. The six – Grove City, Hilliard, London, Groveport Madison, Bexley, and Urbana – remained with the league until it folded after 24 years in 1974. These last six then scattered to various other leagues.
Memories of Mid-Eight League places
I liked traveling to games in the towns of the old Mid-Eight and experiencing the gyms and football fields in those places. The coldest I have ever been was at a football game in London in November. A howling wind swept off the western Ohio plains carrying with it a driving sheet of icy sleet. The wind was so strong the heavy tarps on the fences of London’s stadium blew straight out perpendicular to the ground. I recall trudging through the icy mud through the nearby silos to our parked car after the game and wondering if my toes would ever thaw out.
Gahanna Lincoln’s football stadium seemed extra large with its imposing concrete stands on the home side of the field.
The gyms were all old, unique, and quirky in their own ways. Urbana’s basketball floor was on a stage. London’s gym had cool, wooden theater style seats at one end. At Mifflin’s gym it felt like the fans were right on top of you and it was a loud place.
Groveport Madison’s gym in the 1950s and 1960s, which is still in use as Middle School Central, was the largest high school gym in the county in its day. This gym was also unusual in that the basketball floor was made of linoleum tile, not wood. A wood floor was installed in later years.
The Cruisers’ old football field behind what is now Middle School Central lay in the path of landing jet planes heading for Lockbourne Air Force Base (now Rickenbacker). The planes flew so low over the field and were so roaringly loud that referees paused the football game momentarily until the planes passed by because no one could hear anything on the field.
For me, the Mid-Eight League is gone, but not forgotten.