MANSFIELD — This year, a nugget of little known Ohio History will come to life at Malabar’s “Theater in the Barn,” which is a relatively new theatrical tradition in Mid-Ohio. This tradition, started by the success of theatrical pieces written by Mark Sebastian Jordan, known as “The Mansfield Trilogy,” has inspired another Mid-Ohio playwright to bring a little known piece of history to the stage in “The Black Cyclone.”
Jim Stoner has researched and penned the story of Charles Follis, the first black professional football player of record to ever to take the field. Stoner has always been inspired by the story of Follis, how he achieved this point of notoriety, while playing for a city infamous for being slow to accept the advances of the African-American community across Central Ohio.
Shelby was a well-known “Sundown Town,” as many small towns in Central Ohio, continuing into the 1960’s. This nomenclature was used to describe cities that prohibited blacks from being in town after dark. A young entrepreneur, Frank Schiffer, who managed the Shelby Athletic Club at the turn of the century was an innovator in the game, as many communities across Ohio were forbears of the NFL — fielding teams and slugging it out for little more than bragging rights. It was a brutal game, in fact, 16 players died on the field in Ohio in 1904. It was even more brutal for a young black man who consistently played at a superior level — and set a precedent for character, physical, and emotional strength that carried far beyond his passing in 1910.
A cast of characters including Jackie Robison, Frank Schiffer and Branch Rickey will all lend a role in telling the story, set in the turn of the century, in Central Ohio. It tells the obscure story of Follis’ life, and how his humility and love of competition changed the face of sports in America forever.
The play will be staged in the Barn at Malabar on Aug. 9, 10, 11,16, 17 and 8.
Stoner, and his wife, Amy, principals in “Madcap Productions” will be producing “The Black Cyclone” in conjunction with the Board of The Malabar Foundation.
For more information, visit Blackcyclone.org online.