Winning high school football games isn't easy.
Winning a lot of them – over a lot of years – is even harder.
With that in mind, we'd like to introduce you to the Manchester Panthers and Mogadore Wildcats – the only two teams from The Suburbanite's coverage area to qualify for the state playoffs this year.
Making the playoffs is a new experience for some of the teams in the state's seven divisions this season, but that's hardly the case for Manchester and Mogadore. The Panthers and Wildcats have been there, done that. They are indelibly linked to state playoffs history.
The numbers for both are nothing short of staggering. In some respects, it almost appears as if someone has made them up. But make no mistake about it, they're legitimate.
This is Manchester's 21st trip to the playoffs and Mogadore's 27th. As such, they are among the most frequent playoff qualifiers among all schools regardless of division.
The Wildcats have gotten to the postseason for 15 straight years.
The Panthers are in for the fifth consecutive season. From 1991-2005, they had their own 15-year run.
Mogadore has won four state titles, including three since the playoffs were instituted 41 years ago. The Wildcats have captured 16 regional titles and – get this – 38 league championships.
Is the school really big enough for all those trophies to fit inside?
Manchester has garnered 25 league championships and played for the Division IV state title in 1997, losing in five overtimes in what is still the longest game in state playoffs history.
A lot of schools are like shooting stars when it comes to football success. They seemingly come out of nowhere to soar, and then plummet over the horizon just as quickly, never to be heard from again.
The trick is to burn brightly year after year, especially in the case of smaller schools where there may not be a lot of athletes from which to choose. In being in two of the state's smallest divisions (as determined by male enrollment), Manchester and Mogadore have overcome that obstacle. They are the little engines that could, and have.
So much so, in fact, that in a lot of ways, they are the pride of their respective communities. When you think about Manchester and Mogadore, football immediately comes to mind.
There is an old saying that, "Tradition doesn't graduate," and that's true with the Wildcats and Panthers. Certainly, the talent level is better in some years than it is in others, but in nearly every season they find a way to patch it all together.
That comes in no small measure from having great kids – kids who work hard and dedicate themselves to carry the torch of tradition.
Page 2 of 3 - Their success is also measured by the size of their hearts. The determination of the kids to be more than what they should be, has allowed the Panthers to score 42 or more points in five games this season, including four weeks in a row at one point. They rung up 48 or more points three times.
It has also allowed this year's Wildcats to score 49 points twice, 48 twice and 47. They tallied 42 or more points in four straight weeks.
But let's not forget the coaches, either.
Ohio State's Woody Hayes used to say, "You win with people," and while that is true in college and the pros, teams really do win more with coaching on the high school level.
Manchester head coach Jim France is in his 42nd season at the school, and his 43rd overall as a high school head coach (he spent 1970 at Coventry). He has guided the Panthers in two different stints, 1971-84 and 1986-present, and has never had a losing season. He's won 362 games at Manchester and 365 overall, the latter figure putting him first among active coaches in the state in victories, and second overall. He should pass retired Ironton coach Bob Lutz (381) sometime toward the end of the 2015 season and become Ohio's all-time leader in wins.
France had to step down for the 1985 season when he took over as the high school principal, a job he still has. The Panthers went 2-8 that year.
That was not a coincidence and the hue and cry from Manchester fans paved the way for his return – and the return to winning ways – the following year.
France has had a lot of help, however. Jim Robinson has been an assistant coach at Manchester for four decades, and the defensive coordinator for 30 years. Scott Cantrell has been on the staff for nearly 30 seasons, while France's son, Jason, who played for his father, has coached for 20 years.
That stability has been so crucial to the Panthers' success.
But if the truth be told, coaching continuity was a tradition at Manchester long before France and his assistants arrived. Les "Swede" Olsson went 131-82-7 as head coach from 1946-70. That means the Panthers have had just two head coaches since the year after World War II ended.
Olsson's lone assistant was John McDowell, who ended up serving as defensive coordinator for 32 years.
Those facts are off the charts.
Mogadore has had just six head coaches since 1951, when the program really began to take off. That list includes Matt Adorni, who has been on the job since 2004 and has won 80 percent of his games.
No matter how you look at it, these two small-school football teams, and programs, have been feel-good stories in our area for longer than anyone can remember.
Page 3 of 3 - And even better, it doesn't appear as if that will change at either school anytime soon.