The CHARITY FOOTBALL GAME, sponsored by the PLAIN DEALER, was begun in 1931 to raise money for the newspaper's Give-A-Christmas Fund and to determine the city's interscholastic football champion. The game was played annually during the Thanksgiving holiday at the CLEVELAND MUNICIPAL STADIUM through 1970. The idea for the Cleveland high school game came from a remark by Owen D. Young, a member of Pres. Herbert Hoover's relief committee, who suggested that every city have a charity football game to help support its relief program.
Officials from the Cleveland scholastic conferences met each year to determine which two high school football teams were the best and should play in the championship, and John A. Crawford of the Plain Dealer managed the game for its first 15 years. When the Senate Conference was reorganized into East Side and West Side leagues in 1937, the champions in each league played for the title. From 1931-54 the game was held on the Friday or Saturday after Thanksgiving; from 1955-68 it was played on Thanksgiving Day.
Until the mid-1950s, the game attracted citywide attention. The first game, in which CATHEDRAL LATIN SCHOOL defeated Central 18-0 before 19,304 spectators, raised $8,400 for charity and featured a high school marching-band competition in addition to the football game. Subsequently, competitions were held to select a poster and slogan to promote the game, and tickets were sold by high school alumni groups and students. Attendance and proceeds varied according to the weather and the participating teams. The largest crowd for a Charity Game was 70,955 on 27 Nov. 1946; they watched Cathedral Latin defeat Holy Name, 35-6.
During the late 1960s, the Charity Game was marred by recurrent violence. When doubleheaders featuring the Crown Conference championship game in addition to the Senate game failed to improve attendance in 1969 and 1970, the game was moved to high school fields. In 1970 the Plain Dealer discontinued its official sponsorship; the last charity football game was played at John Marshall High School field in 1987.