By Adam Baum, Cincinnati Enquirer | Original story link here
One of the differences between a good idea and a bad idea is often a question of whether or not persistence follows that idea.
Nearly 25 years ago, Tom Gamble had an idea for a Cincinnati high school football showcase and today, in its 21st year with Gamble still at the helm as the event organizer, the Skyline Chili Crosstown Showdown is arguably the preeminent high school football showcase in the country.
It was an idea, accompanied by persistence, that became a beloved annual sporting event billed as “the nation’s largest and longest running high school football showcase of its kind.”
The perfect setting
In 1989, Gamble was working as a reporter at The Cincinnati Post. At the time, one of his assignments was covering the Buddy LaRosa Classic at Riverfront Stadium.
“It was essentially Cincinnati versus the world,” said Gamble. “I remember sitting down there thinking to myself, ‘this is kind of cool,’ but I looked around and it had local team, local fans – out-of-area team, really no fans.
“But I thought, ‘Man, Cincinnati high school football is so good … if we could create a center stage,’ so what I did was I kind of did my own little straw research poll. I contacted athletic directors, some football coaches.
“This would have been almost ’95,” the year Gamble left The Post to complete his graduate degree in Sports Administration at Xavier University.
“While there, one of my professors was a gentleman named Don Schumacher who had his own sports marketing company. So I needed somebody to take it and believe enough in it and say, ‘hey, this could work.’”
So Gamble rolled the dice and hit his mark.
“He hired me to do some other stuff for his company but to also work on this in ’95,” Gamble said.
Former Elder athletic director Dave Dabbelt actually gave Gamble an old folder filled with information from the Buddy LaRosa Classic to help him start organizing the logistics of the event.
“A resounding yes,” was the response when Gamble approached coaches and administrators, inquiring of their interest to participate.
So in 1996, Gamble got going, planning a few years out for the first Showdown in 1998.
“It was a little trickier back then because UC, the college season wasn’t moved back yet so they had home games on those first two Saturday’s,” Gamble said. “So I had to do two Friday night doubleheaders.”
On Friday, September 4, 1998, La Salle and Princeton played in the first ever Showdown game, followed by Fairfield and Elder, the only team to play in every year of the Showdown.
A week later, Beechwood took on Ryle and Moeller battled Covington Catholic.
The following year, Gamble switched to all four games on a Saturday up at Nippert, and all of a sudden, the Showdown took off like a quarter horse down a fast track.
The matchmaker’s burden
What Gamble quickly learned in those two years before the first Showdown was that simply scheduling games is almost as difficult as winning a staring contest against a big brown bear.
Scheduling’s only gotten harder as the event has grown over the years.
“It took these people putting a lot of faith in me to let me schedule their games,” said Gamble. “Maybe I’m a masochist but I kind of like part of that, the challenge of that was always something that while, at times, I was awake at night just because I’m thinking to myself, ‘Holy hell, if I don’t get them a game…’”
Over the years, there have been headaches. Games fall through for one reason or another.
Though nothing has tried harder to derail the Showdown than last year when the NCAA revised rules that meant the marquee games could no longer be played at Nippert Stadium.
But, the Showdown survived.
Actually, Gamble feels like not having Nippert has allowed him a little more creativity in how he lines up games. Fans will get a good look at that later in July when the Showdown schedule for 2018 is revealed.
‘Without this passion this thing wouldn’t exist’
Passion, like persistence, is essential to an idea.
“This is year 21 and when you think about it there are very few things that last that long on any level and that’s what makes it cool,” said Gamble. “Let’s be honest, the reason this event is going on 21 years is the high school football’s so damn good. It’s coaches, it’s players, it’s teams, it’s tradition, it’s fans … it’s not around if the product isn’t what it is.”
Greater Cincinnati and its undying love of football helped make the Showdown what it is today.