A vote on splitting the Ohio High School Athletic Association tournaments will not solve everyone’s problems.
Utica baseball coach Bren Henderson is more concerned with enrollment gaps than private schools. Changing the tournaments could exacerbate the issue.
“Division II is such a huge range,” Henderson said. “We are the smallest D-II in central Ohio by a lot of boys. You either complain about it or just deal with it. I think that is where they need to fix it.”
Utica had 227 boys in grades 10-12, according to the OHSAA enrollment figures used for the past two years. Licking Heights, also a Division II baseball school, had 336 boys.
Henderson’s team lost in a Division III district semifinal to Bloom-Carroll two years ago. In 2011-12, the Redskins moved back up to Division II and lost to Jonathan Alder in a district semifinal. Utica’s Mid-Buckeye Conference rival, Fredericktown, hit a hot streak and reached the state tournament in Division III.
“Sometimes, it feels like they just whip them out of thin air,” Henderson said. “Last year, a lot of people including us from the baseball staff thought: ‘Geez, we kind of dominated Fredericktown, and they walked to the state in Division III.’ We are thinking: ‘Man, that could have been us,’ but we didn’t get beat by a private. We got beat by Jonathan Alder, and it was a good game.”
The Heath volleyball program has run into its fair share of private schools. Coach Shela Croom has seen her teams eliminated from the postseason by private schools in five of the past six seasons.
The Bulldogs won three consecutive district titles from 2007-09, then lost to a private school in a regional semifinal each time. This fall, they were eliminated by Bishop Ready in a district final for the second time in the past three years. The Silver Knights were the state runners-up.
“I really don’t think it is the kids,” Croom said. “It is the adults. The kids just want to play. I don’t think they really know the (controversy) unless it is brought to their attention by an adult involved. They just want to compete.”
Croom does not hold a grudge. She enjoys Heath’s rivalry with Newark Catholic, and that could be in jeopardy down the road. If the vote passes to split tournaments, some private schools have threatened to break away from the OHSAA.
NC principal Beth Hill dreads the day that decision could be on the table. The Licking County League returns in 2011-12, and NC might not be a part of it for long.
“If that happens, does the OHSAA say: ‘You member schools cannot play non-member schools?'” Lakewood athletic director Bo Hanson said. “What happens to all of these leagues? What scares me the most is what happens to interscholastic athletics? The all-club plan from Europe is probably not that far away if that split happens.”
Lakewood softball’s path to three consecutive state titles from 2008-10 was mixed. In winning the second title, Lakewood beat Ready and Youngstown Ursuline. The Lancers’ other four postseason victories came against public schools.
Newark boys basketball beat Lakewood St. Edward for its Division I state title in 2008. Lakewood baseball slipped past Hamilton Badin in its Division II final three years earlier. Heath beat Elyria Catholic for the first of its two titles in 2002.
Would the accomplishment of winning a state title be lessened at all if the competition was potentially diluted?
“I don’t think so,” Heath assistant baseball coach Mike Saalfield said. “If you win the last game of the year, and you are the only one to do it, I would say it means a whole lot. It is like when you split up a league, it doesn’t matter. A title is a title.”