In Massillon, Ohio, high school football is everything.
A capacity crowd reacts as the Tigers score a touchdown against Canton McKinley at Paul Brown Tiger Stadium in 2012. | (Matt Hafley)
The Massillon Tigers played America's first high school football game in 1894. Indeed, the love of this game is a birthright. Every boy born in Massillon is given a miniature football at birth. The town's nickname is "Tigertown USA"; the town's motto is "City of Champions." In a community of about 30,000 people, the high school football stadium holds 17,000 — and you can bet it's at capacity during every home game.
A newborn receives a mini football from the Tiger Football Booster Club. For decades, members of the Booster Club have visited maternity wards to place mini footballs in the bassinets of baby boys born to parents from Massillon. | (Chelsie Corso)
Photographers David Foster and Gary Harwood wanted to explore this fandom and the community's commitment to their young athletes. Along with a handful of their photojournalism students from Kent State University, they embedded themselves into the community for four years, watching one freshman class all the way through to graduation. The result is the Kickstarter-funded book Tiger Legacy: Stories of Massillon Football (Daylight Books).
The actual game is just part of the story. "[We] needed to illustrate experiences beyond game action and stadium activities," Harwood said. As a result, readers see the infectious and personal connection Massillon residents have to the Tigers, from a view inside a child's bedroom decked in Tigers colors of black and orange to an intimate pregame ritual shared between a player and his grandmother.
"I think a story like this is timeless in the fact that football and the fandom of Massillon is eternal," Foster said. "You could basically do this project 20 years ago and 50 years from now."
Below, a look at what it's like to be a Tiger — now and always:
Malik Dudley's grandmother, Virginia Richardson, prays for him before a game. | (David Foster)
Coty Wolfe applies paint to his face during a tailgating party outside Paul Brown Tiger Stadium. | (Gary Harwood)
Team colors and Obie, the Tiger mascot, define the jacket and tie of Rollie Layfield, the 1993 Tiger Football Booster Club president. | (Coty Giannelli)
A family exits Paul Brown Tiger Stadium after a 2012 victory. | (David Foster)
The dashboard of a fan's RV. | (Gary Harwood)
Vinny Keller plays with the helmet and jersey of Shawn Wright. Vinny's father, Matt, was Shawn's Sideliner — adults from the community who offer the players support and guidance. Shawn, who served in Afghanistan, remains close to the Keller family, especially Vinny. | (Caitlin Bourque)
Jean Wilson and Ann Stanforth in 2011. | (Jessica White)
Beau Huffman presents the Rivalry Trophy to fans who gathered for a spontaneous celebration in the center of Massillon after the team returned from a victory over the Canton McKinley Bulldogs. | (Jenna Watson)
The Tigers enter. | (Caitlin Bourque)
Alex Dailey exits the Massillon locker room during halftime. | (David Foster)