Tanks Memorial Stadium, Ironton
Following World War I, the state of Ohio was at the center of the football world. Many communities boasted professional or semi-pro teams, but few teams enjoyed success equal to that of the Ironton Tanks. Originally one of two semi-pro teams which called Ironton home, the Tanks would excel on the field, becoming a dominant team in the period from 1919 to 1930. The team’s popularity increased, they became a great source of civic pride. Fan-support for the Tanks was so strong that a group of boosters raised the capital required to build the Tanks a home stadium. Opening in 1926, Tanks Memorial Stadium would host future NFL All-Pro’s and a Hall of Fame honoree. With the gradual decline of the Tanks and other small town professional football teams, Tanks Memorial Stadium became the home of the Ironton High School football team. Recognizing the historic significance of the stadium, the Ohio Historical Society placed an official marker outside the stadium in 2002.
Backstory and Context
The Ironton Tanks came into existence in 1919. Taking their name from the armored machine of World War I, many of the players were veterans. The club at first played their games at Beechwood Park. Beechwood Park was simply a field with no grandstands. At that time, players often held double duties, also serving as coaches or managers. Carlton “Shorty” Davies was both the tailback and coach, while William “Bill” Brooks was a tackle and the business manager. In their first year, the Tanks played to a record of 2-1-1, playing teams from Ashland, KY, Portsmouth, OH and New Boston, OH. They drew little attention.
Fortunes began to change in 1920; the team went 5-1-1 with wins over Marshall College and a team from Nitro, WV. The Tanks played teams from across the country, but a three-team league developed consisting of the Ironton Tanks, the Ashland Armcos, and the Portsmouth Spartans. Coined “the Tri-State League,” the rivalry between Ironton and Portsmouth grew especially intense. Games often attracted as many as fifteen hundred fans. The need for a better facility was apparent, and in 1926, Tank Stadium opened. In the early days of the NFL, scheduling rules were lax and the Tanks played several NFL teams, including the New York Giants, the Chicago Bears, the Canton Bulldogs, and the Kansas City Cowboys.
Few teams have ever achieved the on-field success the Tanks achieved during their history. The team’s record over their twelve-year existence was a remarkable 85-19-14. Ironton came to embrace their football team, frequently holding pre-game rallies or parades. Leaving a legacy that continues today as the Detroit Lions, the Tanks were important to the development of professional football. Future Pro Football Hall of Fame member Earl “Greasy” Neal coached the team in 1930. Future NFL All-Pro Glen Presnell, along with many other Tank players, moved on to the Portsmouth Spartans when the Tanks folded. Others moved on to the Detroit Lions with the purchase of the Spartans by a group from Detroit in 1934. Presnell led the NFL in scoring in 1935.
With the gradual decline of the Tanks and other small town professional football teams, Tanks Memorial Stadium became the home of the Ironton High School Tigers. The Tigers won the Ohio state football championships in 1979 and 1989 and were second in 1973, 1982, 1988, 1992, and 1999. Tanks Stadium is one of a few high school stadiums in the U.S. with covered grandstands. The Ohio Historical Society placed a marker at the site in 2002.