By David Ford
On June 24, 1922, the Youngstown Patricians were granted a franchise in the National Football League. Due to insufficient funds, the Patricians never fielded an official NFL team.
However, seven years prior the team had staked their claim as the World Champions.
Founded in 1911 by the Patrician Club, a men’s organization connected to the St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Parish located on Youngstown’s south side, the Youngstown Patricians had been originally composed of players with little or no high school or collegiate experience. The Patricians played the majority of their contests at the now defunct Idora Park.
In “The Story of the Patricians,” published by sports historian Vic Frolund in The Coffin Corner in 1979, the team consisted of 18 players upon its foundation. With a motto that read, “With Malice Toward None and a Square Deal for All,” the Patricians entered the stage of competitive football with a championship in sight.
By 1915, the opposition continued to get stronger; the Patricians needed more experienced players.
“The squad was increased to 25 players, with only seven carried over from 1914. The 18 new men were, for the most part, former college stars,” Frolund wrote in the article. “A few were still in school but could pick up some much needed ‘E Pluribus Unum’ by playing on Sundays under assumed names. Contracts were practically unheard of in the early days of the pro game.”
During their championship season, the Patricians roster featured both established professionals and collegiate athletes. The 1915 season saw the Patricians record stand at 8-0-1. In the midst of their championship season, the Patricians scored 272 points to their opponents 22.
In order to highlight their near-perfect season, the Patricians defeated the Washington Vigilants, a powerhouse squadron that claimed the title of the World Championship of Professional Football every season since 1907. Nobody went to Washington and won, except for Youngstown.
To further strengthen their claim to the title, the Pats cited the following facts: Massillon defeated Toledo; Toledo defeated Columbus; Dayton defeated Toledo; Columbus defeated Massillon, Dayton and Detroit, western champs; Massillon defeated and lost to Canton; the Detroit Maroons lost to Massillon, and the Patricians tied Columbus.
Or, to sum up, Massillon and Canton and Toledo all lost twice, and Columbus lost three times. Youngstown offered to play Canton, Massillon, and Toledo in post-season games, but each of these teams rejected the offer.
The Patricians believed that they deserved to be called the 1915 Champions,” Frolund wrote.
After the 1915 season, the Patricians never won another championship, although they played to record crowds at the time.
Frolund reported a then-record 7,000 fans attended a match-up between the Canton Bulldogs and the Youngstown Patricians, which took place in 1917. The Canton Bulldogs, led by famous all-American athlete Jim Thorpe, would become one of the founding members of the National Football League.
For its eight years of existence, the Patricians competed in the Ohio League, although they claimed the independent World Championship in 1915 as its own trophy; the championship wasn’t affiliated with a single league or conference.
The Patricians eventually folded in 1919, but the memory of their championship still lives on. On Nov. 5, 2015, the M-Gallery at the Erie Terminal Place in Youngstown hosted a celebration to honor the 1915 Youngstown Patricians football team. According to Greg Gulas of The Vindicator, local artist Ray Simon unveiled his artwork depicting the Patricians championship team in 2015.
Nearly 103 years ago, the city of Youngstown stood as World Champions in professional football. To this day, the Patricians remain the only professional football franchise founded in a place of worship.