November 18, 2008

Ohio high school team playing in a pro facility

MORE: Nations Top 100 teams | Sons of NFL Hall of Famers leading their team

Paul David grew up in Massillon, Ohio, admiring Paul Brown - then the coach of the Massillon Tigers' high school football program.

Brown eventually moved on to become an NFL Hall of Fame coach. David watched as Brown befriended his older brothers, Tofic and Johnny, and he later took Brown's history class at the high school.

A pro facility on a high school campus
The Massillon Tigers will be making use of a facility that is 20,000 square feet larger than that of the Cleveland Brown. The Cincinnati Bengals do not yet have their own indoor practice arena.
Click to enlarge
"My dad thought the world of Paul Brown, as a person and a professional," said Jeff David, Paul's son who played and later coached at Massillon. "My dad and coach Brown kept this wonderful relationship out of mutual respect for each other. Coach Brown knew the very humble beginnings my dad had and the struggles the family shared. My dad and coach Brown were very fond of each other. It was a wonderful, beautiful relationship built on a mutual respect and a shared commonality of how you lead your life and what drives decisions in your life."

Paul Brown then the founder and owner of the Cincinnati Bengals died in 1991, and Paul David passed away 11 years later. But Jeff David, in the town in which Paul Brown is still revered, is determined to keep the relationship between his father and Brown in the community's conscience.

That's one of the reasons why his foundation established the "DREAM project" and embarked on building the first indoor practice facility for a high school team in the state. It's right next door to Paul Brown Tiger Stadium, where Massillon plays its home games before thousands of fans. As the first step in the DREAM project, the $3 million Paul L. David Athletic Training Center was erected.

Most important to Jeff David, it keeps alive the memory of how his father not to mention Brown lived his life.

"It was pretty simple," he said. "How do we memorialize everything that was important to my dad family, Massillon, athletics? We announced and forged this dream initiative, developing resources for education and athletics in Massillon. It was to provide career opportunities for the students of Massillon with the unique curriculum embedded in the DREAM project. With the indoor facility, you see a beautiful building, but what most people don't know or understand is what's embedded in the DREAM project.

"The building gets the most attention. You can see it, touch it, feel it, experience it. We are very proud of the bricks and the mortar. But if you think it's just about football, then you don't know the essence of the DREAM project. The initiative was to incorporate things that were so very important to my dad growing up."

The 80,000-square-foot building, which is 20,000 square feet larger than the Cleveland Browns' indoor facility, doesn't simply benefit the football team.

Most other prep sports at Massillon whether it's the golf team or baseball team hitting into the intricate net system, the softball squad staying warm in the middle of winter, the band fine-tuning its performance or the participants in the youth flag football league playing take advantage of the enormous building.

In fact, the entire football-crazy community seemingly is receiving its benefits. One reason is because the entire $6 million DREAM project (the next phase includes an 18,000-square-foot sports medicine building) is privately funded through the Paul & Carol David Foundation, which last year awarded 80 scholarships valued at $5,500 each to Massillon students in need.

"To have a facility like that we've been in there since the middle of July, and every time I go in there, I shake my head," said Massillon athletic director Tim Ridgley, who played on Massillon's last state title team in 1970. "The constant in this whole program is the community support. That has never wavered to a large degree for the past 60, 70, 80 years. It's hard to explain to people unless you've seen it and experienced it."

Massillon also is used to walking on the cutting edge of football technology. That began with Brown in the 1930s and continued with the artificial turf that was laid on the field in the 1980s. Now, it persists with the indoor facility.

"Massillon High School is ahead of us," Bengals owner Mike Brown, the oldest son of Paul Brown, told the Cleveland Plain Dealer when asked about the indoor facility. "We don't have one."

Paul Brown, though, is never far from the community's collective thought in Massillon. Before every contest, when the football team takes its Tigers Pride walk, the pregame stroll ends at the Paul Brown statute. The team then says a prayer and heads into the locker room.

Thanks in part to the David family, Brown's former program continues to thrive.

"When you take a look at the rich tradition of head coaches we've had here, the guy that was the trendsetter was Paul Brown," Ridgley said. "You look at the stories and the writings of him and the things he did with this football program that were the first time anybody had ever done anything like that. This kind of fits in with the whole thing."

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