Finding the best fit

Without fail every coach talked to prior to the season had the same goal and that is to win their respective league or conference crown.

Even with the expanded playoffs, every squad is driven to win that league for a number of reasons. The most obvious reason is that if a squad wins its league it is more than likely to make the playoffs and secure a top eight seed, a possible bye and a home playoff game.

That is not to mention the bragging rights for a year and a memory and championship that will live forever.

So it is no major surprise that we have seen a shift in teams moving to new conferences for those reasons as well as dwindling class sizes, economics and competitive balance.

Spartans on the move

Lima Senior is making the transition next year, playing its final season in the Three Rivers Athletic Conference before moving to the Toledo City League.

John Zell, Lima Senior athletic director, said the move was precipitated by four schools bolting to a new league, leaving the remnants of the TRAC to search for new conference homes. Findlay, Fremont Ross, Toledo Whitmer and Oregon Clay joined the Northern Lakes League.

Initially, Lima Senior applied to become part of the NLL but the league declined the Spartans’ application, the Spartans began the search for a new conference home.

“The challenges were in finding a league where we could compete in all sports and that was geographically close,” Zell said.

Lima Senior is no stranger to jumping conferences. Lima Senior competed in the Greater Ohio League from 1955 until becoming an independent in 1974-75. The Spartans then joined the Greater Miami League in 1980 and stayed there until 2000.

The Spartans went two more years in the GML before going independent for three seasons, eventually joining the Greater Buckeye Conference in 2003 until it broke up in 2011, leading to the formation of the TRAC.

One of the many reasons for the Spartans’ constant movement is the school’s size in an area, northwest Ohio, that has a large number of schools of similar size.

Zell said the Toledo Public League reached out to Lima Senior to join and Zell admits they have had conversations with the TPL prior even when the Spartans were in the TRAC.

“They reached out and we have a few meetings and worked on what the league would look like and came up with a contract and constitution and bylaws,” Zell said. “We will be able to compete in all sports and they are looking to expand and grow themselves. It’s a good fit.

“The competition aspect is huge,” Zell said. “You take a look at the private schools and a lot of their sports program they specialize in. The specialization was tough for us to compete against. This is very beneficial. We will compete day in and day out in the league.”

Zell adds that the Spartans are set up for four years in the TPL and after the third year the Spartans might seek other conference options that are more beneficial for them.

Small school movement

However, smaller schools are also making the transition to other conferences. The Northwest Conference, which has had teams come and go in the past 25 years, has had a core of teams that make it up. The NWC was founded in 1947 with four of its founding members: Allen East, Columbus Grove, Delphos Jefferson and Spencerville. Bluffton joined in 1953 and Ada came in 1964. In 1965, Lincolnview joined, followed by Crestview in 1970 and finally Leipsic last year.

Jon Derryberry, NWC commissioner, added Leipsic after Paulding left the conference and he called it a good fit.

“They were concerned about football and losing some schools in BVC so it worked out for them,” Derryberry said. “We are pretty good with football on the varsity side.”

Derryberry adds that the conference is always open to expansion.

“Football drives everything as far as scheduling,” Derryberry said. “At this school, we want either two football schools or no schools because the way we are set up now the first three weeks are nonleague and the rest is league and that works out pretty good for everybody.”

Derryberry added that when they invited Leipsic they invited another school that they were seriously interested in and was scheduled to interview the next day but then they called the next day and said they weren’t interested in it anymore.

“If we were going to expand there are three or four that we would consider taking,” Derryberry said.

Since 1947, teams that have been a part of the NWC have been Beaverdam, Bath, Pandora-Gilboa, Ottawa-Glandorf, Elida, Upper Scioto Valley and Lima Central Catholic to name a few.

Because of some of the changes in smaller schools around the area, the Northwest Central Conference was formed in 2001 as Lima Temple Christian, Ridgemont, Waynesfield-Goshen, Marion Catholic and Riverside came together as the initial teams in the league.

In its two decades, the NWCC has seen its fair share of movement and continues to be an active league. The nine-team conference saw a major shift in the last two years when they lost Riverside and Lehman and replaced them with Ridgedale and Crestline.

The NWCC came into existence in the fall of 2001-2002. The nine-member schools are Crestline, Elgin, Hardin Northern, Lima Temple Christian, Lima Perry, Ridgedale, Ridgemont, Upper Scioto Valley, and Waynesfield-Goshen are located in the counties of Allen, Auglaize, Hardin, Logan, and Shelby Counties of Northwest Ohio.

Jerry Cooper, who was named NWCC commissioner last year, said it is all about stability.

“One of the biggest issues for the NWCC over the last eight to 10 years is the lack of stability but for the first time we feel like there is a real stable enviroment of schools that are very similar and schools that want to be together,” Cooper said. “We have a good situation right now.”

This year eight of the nine schools will play football and next year that expands to 10 schools participating in football when Cory-Rawson and North Baltimore join the NWCC after leaving the BVC.

“With a balanced amount of teams I don’t think anyone is looking to leave or move anywhere else,” Cooper said. “They kind fit together and need each other.”

That was one of the main reasons Cory-Rawson and North Baltimore left the BVC.

Cooper said some of the smaller schools in the BVC were looking to form its own league and at that time the NWCC put out feelers to gauge interest to see if any team was willing to join their conference.

“The team that was really interested was Cory-Rawson and they got North Baltimore interest,” Cooper said. “Because this team did not want to take one school and make it an uneven number, they elected to take two teams.”

Cooper adds that from a football stand point, this year, NWCC schools will play three nonleague games and seven league contest. Next year with 10 teams, each program will have one nonleague affair.

“After this year, the teams will have to find only one nonleague game and the goal or the mission of the league, only four of the nine, are playing junior varsity football,” Cooper said. “We want to increase that to five or six so that the teams that are playing jv have enough players and enough games to play. “It is all about improving numbers and getting a good level of competition.

“The mission in this league is trying to keep football as best they can and some of the schools needed to get out of the league that they were in and find a place of more comprable teams to compete against.”

Speaking of the BVC, that conference has dwindled to nine teams after boasting as many as 12 four years ago. But due to economics and competitive balance, that number has dwindled. With two schools, Cory-Rawson and North Baltimore leaving the league and Liberty-Benton announcing its intent to leave the BVC, the conference finds itself in a transitional phase.

Despite the downsizing in the BVC, Matt Hershey, Pandora-Gilboa athletic director, said the Rockets are committed to the BVC despite having invitations to move to a new conference. Three years ago Hershey said Pandora-Gilboa was invited to leave the BVC and join the NWC but added there has been no other talk. At that time Leipsic accepted the move from the BVC to the NWC.

“When the dust settles we will be more attractive to other schools,” Hershey said. “At Pandora-Gilboa we are committed to the BVC,” Hershey said. “We are actually hoping to bring in some new members. We have a nice little set of schools,” Hershey said. “If we can find two more schools from the outlying area who are just losing numbers in their school system.”