The Youngstown Patricians were a semi-professional football team based in Youngstown, Ohio. In the 1910s, the team briefly held the professional football championship and established itself as a fierce rival of more experienced clubs around the country, some of which later formed the core of the National Football League.
The football team was organized in 1911 by the Patrician Club, a men's organization connected to St. Patrick's Roman Catholic parish, on the city's south side. As sports historian Vic Frolund observes, the Catholic lay organization was designed "to advance the moral, social, and physical welfare of its members". Nevertheless, by 1914, the team associated with the Patricians Club had become a highly competitive enterprise that aggressively recruited some of the top athletic talent in the region. Shortly after the team's founding, its 18 players faced an eight-game schedule among other semi-professional and sandlot teams in Ohio and Pennsylvania. After scoring seven wins and one loss, the Patricians embraced a longer and tougher schedule of nine games.
Faced with more experienced teams like the Canton Bulldogs, the McKeesport Olympics, the Pitcairn Quakers, and the Washington, D.C., Vigilants, the Patricians increased their squad to 25 men and began to actively recruit well-established players. As Frolund writes: "Contracts were practically unheard of in the early days of the pro game. Consequently, a player could be with a different team every Sunday. His services were open to the highest bidder each week". In this competitive environment, the Patricians managed to secure seasoned players including Ray Miller (University of Notre Dame), Elgie Tobin (Pennsylvania State University), Russell "Busty" Ashbaugh (All-American mention at Brown University), and George Vedernack (Carlisle). This power-house team was led by player-coach Ray L. Thomas, a former star athlete at Youngstown's Rayen School.
Led by manager Joe Ormier and coach Thomas (fresh from the West Virginia University football team), the Patricians entered the 1915 season with a confidence that was soon reflected in the local media. In October, when the "Pats" faced off with a rival club from Barberton, Ohio, one newspaper account stated: "It is no wonder the Patricians have aimed at the state titular emblem this season. With such a grand organization; one that so admirably combines weight speed, courage, and sheer ability, it is even to their discredit that do not go in quest of the titular honors of several states or the country at large". The article added:"The maroon and gray [the Patricians' colors] need fear no professional football team".
The news report proved prophetic. That season, the Patricians won eight games and tied one. The most unexpected victory was a 13-7 win over the Washington, D.C., Vigilants. As Frolund writes: "Over a span of nine years, the Vigilants had won 90 games, lost but three, and had one tie. The Vigilants had claimed the World's Championship of professional football since 1907, defeating such teams as the famous Philadelphia Blues, Jersey City Pros, Harrisburg Giants, Altoona All-Stars, Maryland and New York Pros, New York, New Jersey, Boston, Reading, Pennsylvania, and Georgia". As Frolund observes, the victory enabled the Patricians to lay claim to the World's Championship.
The following season, however, the Patricians faced predictably tough competition as other semi-professional teams sought to challenge their unofficial but widely acknowledged championship. While the Patricians won a slim victory over the Washington Vigilants, they closed the season with a crippling 0-13 loss to the Columbus Panhandles. Their season record was a less-than-stellar 7-4.
The Patricians entered the 1917 season determined to win back the championship title and assembled a powerhouse team that appeared equal to the task. The team featured five All-Americans. Standouts included Stan Cofall (University of Notre Dame), Tom Gormley (Georgetown University), Franklin "Bart" MacComber (Illinois), Gil Ward (Notre Dame), Jim Barron (Georgetown), and Freeman Fitzgerald (Notre Dame). Ernest "Tommy" Hughitt, while at the same time playing for a team in Buffalo, moonlighted as a quarterback for Youngstown.
The opening contest of the 1917 season was against Jim Thorpe and his Canton Bulldogs. The game, which took place at Canton's Wright Field, drew a crowd of 7,000 fans. As Frolund notes, player-manager Thorpe, "who very seldom played a full game, played every minute of this one". He adds that the Bulldogs won a narrow victory in a contest where "the lineups read like a who's-who of post-graduate football, circa 1917". As sports historian Keith McClellan writes: "Although the Canton Bulldogs gained 168 yards with their rushing attack and passed for an additional eighty-two yards, they could not cross Youngstown's goal for a touchdown. The Youngstown defense was outstanding whenever Canton threatened to score. Howard 'Cub' Buck's drop kick from the fifteen yard line in the first period produced the only points of the game. Three times, Bart Macomber tried to tie the score with a field goal but failed each attempt. Canton won 3-0". McClellan adds that the game was characterized by "head-to-head competition" between the teams' two centers, Robert Peck (Youngstown) and Ralph "Fats" Waldsmith. According to McClellan, legendary Notre Dame coach Knute Rockne listed Peck "as the best center for the first quarter of this century".
In the wake of this narrow defeat, the Patricians secured a victory over the Ohio Tigers, with a score of 14-6. In another contest with the world-champion Bulldogs later that season, however, the Patricians suffered a devastating loss of 13-0. Canton achieved this victory without the help of Thorpe, who was sidelined by a leg injury. Worse yet, the Youngstown team lost several of its brightest stars, including Cofall, to the Massillon Tigers. Sports historian McClellan observes that "a season that began with such high hopes ended with an unseasonable snowstorm and a modest 4 and 3 record". Meanwhile, the wave of recruitment that came with America's entry into World War I, along with a flu pandemic that led to restrictions on travel and large gatherings, temporarily slashed the ranks of the nation's professional and semi-professional teams.
The Patricians' effort to regroup under coach-manager Thomas unraveled in the wake of a 27-0 defeat at the hands of the Massillon Tigers on October 5, 1919. Yet, Patrician alumnus Russell "Busty" Ashbaugh (football coach of Youngstown's South High School and father of Notre Dame standout Russell "Pete" Ashbaugh) headed up a semi-professional team in Youngstown that fared well in regional contests. As Frolund notes, a team that was to be managed by another Patricians alumnus, Elgie Tobin, received a National Football League franchise, which had a schedule laid out for the 1922 NFL season. The project collapsed without explanation, and the team never played. While the area saw a brief revival of semi-professional football in the 1970s, with the organization of the Youngstown Hardhats, the Patricians club—at least during its peak years—was the closest that Youngstown would come to producing a nationally competitive professional football team.
Hughitt went on to the Buffalo professional football club, where he played from 1918 to 1924. During his time in Buffalo he won two state titles, and nearly won two NFL titles (1920 and 1921) as the team's coach and quarterback.