The Mason football program, one of the largest in the state, was non-existent just 54 years ago. In the early 1960s, funded by a community that wanted to bring the Friday night lights to their school, the Mason football team was born.
Mason Athletic Hall of Fame Historian Michael O’Bryant said before 1962, it wouldn’t have been possible for Mason to support a football team. As Mason and southwestern Ohio as a whole began to grow, Mason began to think about football.
“We were getting to be a big enough school that we could support a football team,” O’Bryant said. “Back before ‘62 classes were only 30 or 40 people, 15 of which were boys. Mason was really starting to grow and the whole area was.”
O’Bryant said that as surrounding schools started football programs of their own, Mason wanted to hop on board.
“Kings, Waynesville, Blanchester were all starting football programs too,” O’Bryant said. “So now (we) were not only the people, but we (had) some people to play.”
Former Mason football player Dennis Bogan, who played on the first Mason football team, said before football, there wasn’t much to do in Mason on Friday nights.
“The gym was up in town, where the administration building was at,” Bogan said. “Friday night basketball: that was about the only form of entertainment then.”
According to Bogan, the Mason football team began with the Mason Boosters Club, which helped raise the money for the first football team.
“There was a group of guys here in town that started the Mason Boosters Club,” Bogan said. “They started out basically with donations. There were probably 10 to 15 guys that were the nucleus of it.”
Unlike today when all athletic facilities are subsidized by the school, O’Bryant said the beginning of the Mason football program was almost entirely funded by the community at large.
“Just about every business in town contributed,” O’Bryant said. “The football field was built originally not by the school, but by a lot of the parents in town. There’s a whole list of men on this contract that put up collateral so that the Boosters could borrow the money to build a football field, it was a real community effort.”
According to Bogan, some businesses donated more than just money.
“The first lights out there were installed free of charge,” Bogan said. “At the time, there was only one set of bleachers and that’s where the press box is at now on the home side of the field. That summer, the football players carried a lot of the blocks. Elsie Richardson, he was a local bricklayer…laid all the blocks and I don’t think they charged them for that.”
According to O’Bryant, he doesn’t think the same type of fundraising effort could happen in today’s day in age due to the size of Mason today.
“You look back at the names and you think of the size of the town. It was a pretty big percentage of people: families who were contributing directly to doing this,” O’Bryant said. “You can never say never, but I think it was pretty unique and hasn’t happened since. People expect the school to build things themselves, but this was really a grassroots, community effort.”
Bogan said one of the biggest changes he’s seen in the last 54 years is the facilities.
“One of the things that’s changed a lot is the (facilities),” Bogan said. “The weight room we had was back in the furnace room, it consisted of a bench where you could bench press and some dumbbells, nothing like you have today. The upside of it was the temperature in there was the same whether it was winter or summer, about 95 degrees.”
While the Comets draw thousands more on Friday nights now than they ever did in the ‘60s, O’Bryant said football was just a big a part of the community then as it is now.
“It’s always been pretty popular, right from the very beginning,” O’Bryant said. “It’s always been an important part of Mason schools. I think a lot of that goes with success and the involvement, the fact these people really felt like they were a part of it. They actually worked on it; they contributed money.”