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Archbishop Hoban vs St. Vincent-St. Mary football Shillelagh Trophy

AKRON, Ohio – The Akron Holy War may be coming to an end.

When Archbishop Hoban and St. Vincent-St. Mary meet for the Shillelagh Trophy on Friday night, it could be the last time the two longtime rivals meet in the regular season for a while. Not with a peace treaty or a white flag, but more because of an unsure administration.

Despite being one of the most storied rivalries in Akron, the game is not yet scheduled for next season. While one team – Hoban – would love to continue the rivalry, the other has not committed.

“What we have said when it comes to the game for next year and years after is we are willing as Hoban to do whatever it takes to move our schedule around to make the game happen,” Hoban coach Tim Tyrrell said.

Tyrrell also has the backing of school president Chris DiMauro.

“Regarding the future of the game, I can state unequivocally that Archbishop Hoban is committed to the series continuing next year and for years to come,” DiMauro said. “I want our students and fans to continue to have this opportunity. A rivalry this unique is most certainly a proud component of both our school communities.”

But on the other side of the rivalry, STVM officials have been noncommittal.

STVM in the last two years has brought in a new president (Leo Hyland) and a new athletic director (Kyle Sasala) who don’t have previous ties to the school, the community or the rivalry.

In a statement after being hired in July, Sasala said “I plan to build upon the rich history and traditions here at STVM.”

When asked this week, he echoed the same thought.

“I respect the traditions and the history and whatnot,” Sasala said.

The history and traditions at STVM (5-1) don’t get much bigger than the football rivalry with Hoban (7-0), but Sasala was noncommittal on whether the Fighting Irish plan to pursue a new deal for the game to continue being played.

“What I can say is that we are focused on this week and like to take each game one at a time,” Sasala said. “We will be worrying about scheduling for next year once the season is over.”

As with Hoban, the president at STVM agrees with the comments coming from inside the athletic department. After not answering multiple emails and phone calls, Hyland was short with his comments when approached this week.

“We are playing the game on Friday night. That’s the only thing we are worried about right now,” Hyland said. “After the game is over, the athletic director and the coaches will talk about the schedule for next year. There’s really nothing else to say.”

When asked why the game was not scheduled for next year, Hyland answered with, “That’s all I have to say.”

That doesn’t mean STVM has a blank schedule for next year, however. While there are a few open dates, the Fighting Irish have a number of games already set for 2023.

“Me being new, I just want to see what all the Akron Holy War is all about and kind of embrace it myself and see how that game is and again to see what works and what doesn’t and going from there,” Sasala said. “I know we had some issues in the past with different things.”

When asked to expand on the issues he was referencing from past games, the athletic director took back those words and described the game as an emotional one for players and fans.

“I wouldn’t necessarily say issues, just obviously there is a lot of heightened emotion around the game,” Sasala said. “These two teams are very competitive and want to beat each other at all costs. I wouldn’t say issues, I would say heightened emotion.”

With that in mind, Sasala says he wants to experience the game himself before deciding what the school should do in future seasons.

“I am trying to take it all in and see what we want to do going forward that’s best for our school and also our student-athletes,” Sasala said. “I think at the end of it you have to look at what is the best for the student-athletes. We want to do what we can to do what’s best for them and their experience here at St. V.”

By all measures, it seems that the student-athletes – and the student body as a whole – enjoy the rivalry week festivities, no matter who wins or loses on Friday night. Both schools have their traditions every year during the week leading up to the game, and even the schools enjoy posting about it on social media.

“When you look at the end-of-the-year books (for each school) and (the seniors) are going over their favorite things, they are talking something specific about (their) school,” Tyrrell said. “But mostly every kid is always talking about the spirit week between Hoban and St V. You see it all week long and the kids getting excited for it.”

Those traditions and the involvement of the entire student body and community are what make this rivalry such a big deal in the city, whether you went to Hoban or STVM or neither school. Tyrrell sees that as one of the reasons why the Knights are willing to do anything to get this game scheduled.

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“I think the biggest reason we want to continue it and make sure nothing happens to it is it is bigger than the football game,” Tyrrell said. “I think it is so school- and community-based. There are a lot of people that don’t go to either school and never have who just love going to the game. I think it is just bigger than a football game, and that’s what kind of makes it that legendary rivalry in the city of Akron.”

As with any good rivalry at the high school level, the student involvement and memories created are just as important as the game itself. And it is no different at Hoban when it comes to game week against STVM.

“The rivalry is incredibly special to the Hoban community,” DiMauro said. “Generations of Hoban students, alumni and fans can point to memories that involve this game. It generates so much involvement from our students — spirit days, pep assemblies and our annual Mum Day. Hoban-STVM is unlike anything I have ever experienced as a student or school leader. You almost have to see it to believe it.”

There are also massive tailgate parties by fans of both schools prior to the game each year. When the game was at InfoCision Stadium, fans would start arriving at 8 a.m. to claim their spots for that night. Even with the game being played at the schools now, the fans have still shown up in full force to party ahead if the kickoff.

“I am all about traditions and history, and I am taking a lot into consideration,” Sasala said. “I just want to experience the night and experience the week before we make any big decisions, basically.”

Sasala said one factor in waiting to schedule the game was that STVM has a new coach in Terry Cistone.

“I just want to experience it for myself,” Sasala said. “With Coach Cistone being a new coach, (I) wanted to experience the week of Hoban and the game of Hoban. Trying to experience for myself and Coach Cistone.”

Cistone is no stranger to the program and its traditions and rivalries. He started his coaching career under his father — John Cistone, for whom the stadium at STVM is named — where he was on the STVM staff when Fighting Irish took home back-to-back state championships in 1981 and 1982. He was also on the coaching staff under Bobby Nichol in 2020 and 2021 before taking the head job this season.

Hoban has won nine straight games in the series — seven in the regular season and two in the playoffs in 2015 and 2016.

Sasala wouldn't say the lack of recent success against Hoban would play into his or the administration’s decision, but he did talk about how good Hoban has been in recent years and how he would like to get competitive games on the schedule for the Fighting Irish. 

The Knights have won five state titles since 2015 and have played in the state championship game six times in that span.

“Like I said, I want to do what is best for our student-athletes and get them competitive games,” Sasala said. “Hoban is a juggernaut. They play (St. Edward), they play (St. Ignatius), they play these big-time schools. I want to play teams that we can be competitive with. I think we can be competitive with Hoban as well, but I am just trying to see what is best for our students and school and teams.”

Before the recent dominance in the series by Hoban, STVM had won eight in a row over its rivals, and there was never any talk of the game not continuing.

There was one other stoppage in the series, however, as the teams did not play from 1978 to 1995 before being renewed for the 1996 season. That stoppage was due to the importance of computer points. With Hoban struggling at the time, STVM needed to find other opponents to maximize points and their chances at making the playoffs. 

When it was brought back to life, the game was played at the home of the University of Akron, first at the Rubber Bowl until it was closed in 2008 and then at InfoCision Stadium until COVID-19 halted the game being played there in 2020. 

That season, the game was played at STVM with a limited number of fans, and the schools agreed on a two-year deal where each school would get to host one game.

“This is the second year of the home-and-home,” Sasala said. “Bringing in a new AD, a new coach, just trying to assess what is best for the school and the students. Just trying to embrace it all and take it all in and kind of see how it goes and see how the night goes and kind of go from there.”

Does that mean the series might still have a pulse?

“It doesn’t mean we’re not going to schedule Hoban, doesn’t mean we are going to schedule Hoban,” Sasala said. “I just wanted to embrace the game, embrace the week, take it all in and go from there once the game is over with.”

Does that mean STVM’s other rivalry game with Walsh Jesuit could also be off the table after the current contract between the two schools expires? STVM had won five in a row and eight of nine over the Warriors before a 35-14 loss last season.

“Being an outsider coming in, I don’t necessarily know if Walsh is equivalent to Hoban when it comes to rivalries,” Sasala said.

The STVM football website lists its two rivals as Hoban and Walsh, but Sasala said the two games were not the same.

“They are probably I guess one of our biggest, one of our rivals, yes,” Sasala said. “But I wouldn’t say to the height of Hoban, obviously.”

While Sasala continues to say he wants to experience Hoban week for himself before making any decisions, he also says he wants to continue the traditions at STVM.

“With a new AD, new coach, new president, new people in the building, (I am) just trying to build upon the traditions and history that were already here,” Sasala said.

When that decision is made, Hoban will be ready to listen.

“All we can do as a school between me and (athletic director) Matt (Bing) and (president) Chris DiMauro and (principal) T.K. (Griffith) is offer to say, ‘Hey listen, we’re willing to play any week, we will move the schedule around to make it happen,’” Tyrrell said. “We don’t know until they either call us or have a full schedule and say they can’t.”