Devin Fulk remembers bus rides to Washington Court House and London.
A trip to Bexley seemed like going next door.
A decade later after gas prices have skyrocketed and students have begun to be pulled every which way, a trip up Ohio 37 to Johnstown or on Ohio 161 to Licking Heights seems far enough.
The Licking County League has its flaws, and commissioner Kelly Miller acknowledged this week the athletic directors are working to make the appropriate changes for future years.
However, make no mistake: The LCL was re-formed with travel expenses and gate receipts in mind, and the first year was a home run.
“I think back to when I was in high school. I played my senior year in the (Mid-State League-Ohio Division),” said Fulk, who starred in football and basketball at Licking Valley and now is the boys basketball coach at Heath.
“We all got out of the old (Buckeye Athletic Conference), and we thought that was great because we were cutting down on the travel. The big complaint you always heard about the old MSL was poor gates and then the travel. You hated having to drive. That was the big appeal of the LCL.”
Central Ohio recently went through an upheaval in league expansion and movement, and Licking County was right in the center of it. The LCL is supposed to be an end point.
Schools are not interested in picking up and moving again. Administrators are committed to continuing to appease the coaches, but it will be a compromise.
“Our meeting (Thursday) was just under 3½ hours, and there was a lot of really good discussion,” Newark Catholic athletic director Scott Harris said. “I don’t think there was anybody in the room that did not have a say or whose opinion was not listened to.”
Fulk and his fellow coaches have reasonable concerns. Had six of the 10 schools not changed athletic directors for this school year, changes might have been made on the fly.
The number of games is a serious issue. The population boom in Pataskala has caused the enrollment gap to become a canyon since the first incarnation of the LCL disbanded almost 25 years ago.
Watkins has just four opportunities to play nonleague opponents to improve its seeding in the Division I tournament. In the spring, Licking Valley softball lost an opportunity to play two games against state powers in order to play Harris’ NC team a second time in a rescheduled game.
“For a school that really was fighting for not only a league championship but also to get back to and win state, that is a situation where because we had such a large amount of games, they lost out on a really good competitive opportunity,” Harris said. “We were not at the same caliber of what a North Canton Hoover is.”
A move to a 14-game league schedule from the current 18-game round robin in both basketballs, baseball, softball and volleyball almost certainly will necessitate a move to two divisions in those sports, another potential change driven by coaches.
It is fair to ask whether certain small-school programs consistently can compete for league titles. However, it is not perfect as it created a scenario in football in 2013 when 40 percent of the league won a title.
“I hate to see people wanting to get rid of it so quickly because it solved the two big issues that I had always heard,” Fulk said. “We had great attendance, and the travel is almost non-existent. Now, we have found everything to complain about. I hate to jump the gun to make it sound simple and want to put an end to it so quickly.”
Yes, the first year was a rocky road. Coaches and administrators disagreed on how coaches meetings were conducted and if input was taken seriously.
The preseason golf tournaments were a disaster as teams were shipped outside the county to play in New Albany on a course too difficult and where no prior relationships had been built. Girls were kicked off the course because the meet had gone beyond its allotted time.
The league’s coaches asked for a move to The Links at Echo Springs. The league agreed, and the meets this week were held there with minimal issues.
The LCL is listening. Changes to the schedule could be announced as soon as September for the 2015-16 school year.
Quit with the “league will not last five years” talk. Win a league title before bad-mouthing the competition. Acknowledge the many hours athletic directors have worked to get the league off the ground.
Sports are games of failures. Give the league a chance to succeed.
Snyder is a sports writer for The Advocate. Tell him what you think at firstname.lastname@example.org.