MANSFIELD – The schools from Morrow and Knox counties are seceding from the Mid Ohio Athletic Conference to form their own yet-to-be-named league.
Expected to join Northmor, Mount Gilead, Cardington, Highland, Fredericktown, Centerburg and East Knox of the MOAC Blue Division will be Mid-Buckeye Conference member Danville.
“Was it unexpected? Yes. Was it a total surprise? I don’t think so. Five or six years ago there was a proposal to do this and we managed to keep everybody in the MOAC together at the time,” MOAC Commissioner Terry Williams said.
Where Elgin, the other MOAC Blue member, fits is to be determined.
“We haven’t made a decision on that at all,” Elgin Superintendent Bruce Gast said. “We’re in the MOAC right now, so we couldn’t decline anything because we’re still a member of it. We’ll be talking to our board of education and letting them know. They don’t know some of these things that are happening in the Blue Division of the MOAC.
“We’re going to look at our options. We haven’t declined or affirmed anything.”
The move of the MOAC Blue members came to light this week when Clear Fork administrators learned of the Blue Division’s intentions to form their own league, independent of the MOAC Red Division.
“They broke off, so the MOAC is trying to restructure now and look at possibly going North and South, but everything is on hold now,” Clear Fork Athletic Director Joe Tresey said.
Clear Fork was in serious talks about joining the MOAC Red Division, as CF administrators presented the case to make the move to their school board, which could make a decision later this winter. The fate of Clear Fork remains uncertain.
“We’re still in the OCC, but because of our size I think we’re always going to look for schools and a league that has schools similar to our size,” Tresey said.
With Orrville leaving the Ohio Cardinal Conference, Clear Fork is by far the smallest school in that league with just 381 boys and girls in three grades. The OCC is replacing Orrville with Mount Vernon, which will be the biggest school in the league and marks five schools with enrollments over 600 boys and girls.
Since joining the OCC in 2004, the Colts have won just four boys conference championships, but girls teams have won 10.
“The reason (the MOAC Red) was so attractive to us is we’re playing schools that are similar in our size and our demographics and our socioeconomics,” Tresey said.
The offer for the Colts to join the Red Division remains, according to the commissioner.
According to sources in the Blue Division, superintendents met Monday to discuss leaving the league and forming their own. They approached the rest of the MOAC with their decision to collectively leave Wednesday, Williams confirmed. Those superintendents do not want anyone at their schools talking on the record until plans are formalized after the Thanksgiving break.
“There are more unanswered questions than answered ones right now,” Williams said. “We’re going to continue to go forward and explore all possibilities and go from there.”
Gast said Elgin was not a part of that initial meeting, but knew it took place.
“There’s been talk since the two divisions formed. I’m not totally surprised,” Gast said of the other Blue Division schools’ move. “It’s easy to say we’re starting a new league, but it’s another matter to put it into place.”
Elgin is the outlier in the Blue Division, sitting in western Marion County. While it is similar in makeup and size to the other schools in the division, travel is an issue with league trips taking 60 to 90 minutes one way.
Since MOAC expansion a couple years ago, the Red and Blue essentially worked as separate leagues with very little crossover. With Fairbanks leaving the MOAC Red, sources said there was pressure to move a Blue Division team over to fill the void and possibly backfill the Blue spot with a school like Danville, Loudonville or Lucas.
According to one source, if Elgin elects to stay with the MOAC Blue schools, the league could try to add one more school to make it a 10-team league. If the Comets decline, it will remain an eight-team league and will not expand beyond that.
By breaking away, a source said, it gives the Morrow and Knox schools more control over their schedules and more opportunities to expand league offerings into academics. It also frees the Red Division to court whoever it wants to fill its eighth spot or to even expand further.
“I don’t know what it changes right now,” River Valley Athletic Director Barry Dutt said of the schools remaining in the Red Division. “With it just happening this week we don’t know what’s going to be involved.
“I think we’re in a wait-and-see pattern. There will be a lot of discussion.”
Proximity also played a big role in the Knox and Morrow school districts separating from the MOAC. All eight (minus Elgin) will be within a half-hour drive of one another, and with exception of Highland (Division II in most sports and IV in football), they are similar in size and makeup.
When the separation happens is still to be determined. By the MOAC constitution, the schools must stay through the 2017-18 season, but that timetable could be moved up a year.
As for Elgin’s fate, it has options. If an offer stands, it could remain with the Blue Division. According to Williams, the Comets are welcome in the Red Division, which fits them better geographically, but would be tough considering they would play against larger schools like Marion Harding, Buckeye Valley, Galion and Jonathan Alder as well as nearby schools North Union, Pleasant and River Valley.
The Northern 10, of which Marion County’s Ridgedale is a member, needs a school to replace the departure of Crestline. The Northwest Central Conference, which has nearby schools in Hardin County like Ridgemont, Upper Scioto Valley and Hardin Northern, has nine members as well.
“We want to see what these options actually are and explore these options,” Gast said. “Right now our options are totally open. I couldn’t even guesstimate where we could end up at this point.”