By Rick Palsgrove, Groveport Editor
The Mid-Eight League only lasted 24 years, but I remember it and I’m sure others do too.
Today, the 32-team Ohio Capital Conference dominates the Central Ohio area by sheer number of teams. There aren’t many leagues left in the region 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, Central Ohio League, Central Buckeye League, and Mid-Eight League all had their days in the sun. It could be argued that the Franklin County League was a precursor to the Ohio Capital Conference as it included more teams than other conferences of the era and many teams that were once in the County League are now in the OCC.
Mel the basketball
Having grown up in Groveport in the 1950s, 1960s and early 1970s, I have fond memories of the now defunct Mid-Eight League. In its heyday it was a conference made up mostly of a high school and scattered small farming towns.
A few of us kids used the league’s initials to call them “Mel” back then, but our uncool efforts failed and the nickname didn’t catch on. However, I do 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’ve used Mel so many times—mostly on the long-gone basketball courts behind Groveport Elementary—that I’ve worn the grit and grin off the surface of the ball. When Mel’s name and face disappeared, I kept putting them on. Mel eventually got so smooth and slippery that I had to pull him back. I didn’t have the heart to throw it 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, consisting of the Grove City Greyhounds, Hilliard Wildcats, London Red Raiders, Marysville Monarchs, Westerville Wildcats, and Worthington Cardinals. Despite trying, I have never been able to find any information as to why these schools decided to join forces in their own league. So if any other old timers out there can shed some light on the formation of the league, please let me know.
Worthington left the league eight years later to rejoin the Franklin County League, but that didn’t stop the league from expanding in 1958 to become the Mid-Eight League, with Groveport Madison Cruisers’ new signing Gahanna Lincoln Golden Lions and Mifflin Cowpunchers.
This eight-team configuration lasted 10 years until 1968 when the newly created Ohio Capital Conference lured Gahanna Lincoln and Westerville away. The Mid-Eight League closed the gap by adding the Bexley Lions and Grandview Bobcats.
Grandview and league founding member Marysville left the Metropolitan League in 1972 and were replaced by the Urbana Hillclimbers, leaving the Mid-Eight as a seven-team league. Mifflin then left the league in 1973 to join the City League.
Although the Mid-Eight League name stuck, the circle had come full and by 1973-74 the conference was again becoming a six-team league, much as it began in 1950. The six — Grove City, Hilliard, London, Groveport Madison, Bexley, and Urbana — stayed in the league until it collapsed in 1974 after 24 years. Those last six were then scattered into various other leagues.
Memories of places in the Mid-Eight League
I loved traveling to the old Mid-Eight towns for games and experiencing the gyms and soccer fields in those places. I was colder than ever before at a football game in London in November. A howling wind swept across the western Ohio plains, carrying with it a drifting layer of freezing sleet. The wind was so strong that the heavy tarpaulins on the fences of the London stadium blew perpendicular to the ground. I remember trudging through the freezing mud through the nearby silos to our parked car after the game, wondering if my toes would ever thaw.
Gahanna Lincoln’s football stadium seemed extra large with its imposing concrete grandstands on the home side of the field.
The gyms were all old, unique and quirky in their own way. Urbana’s basketball floor was on a stage. London’s gym had cool theater-style wooden chairs at one end. Mifflin’s gym felt like the fans were right above you and it was a noisy place.
Groveport Madison’s gym in the 1950s and 1960s, still used 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 linoleum tile rather than wood. In later years, a wooden floor was laid.
The old Cruisers football field behind what is now Middle School Central got in the way of landing jets heading for Lockbourne Air Force Base (now Rickenbacker). The planes flew so low over the field and were so noisy that the umpires momentarily stopped the football game until the planes flew by because no one on the field could hear anything.
For me, the Mid-Eight League is over, but not forgotten.