The Mid Ohio Athletic Conference now strives for balance after months of shake-ups within the league during the 2015-16 season.
Clear Fork accepted the invitation to join the MOAC as the league’s eighth school at a regular board meeting on Thursday, after Ontario accepted the invitation to join the MOAC as the league’s seventh school at a board meeting on Tuesday.
“We feel fantastic,” Clear Fork High School principal Brian Brown said Thursday after the meeting. “We always hoped to play schools our same size.”
And Brown said the move was important, especially after the Ohio Cardinal Conference, Clear Fork’s current conference, voted a week ago to kick out the Colts following the 2017-2018 school year.
“In the Ohio Cardinal Conference, we were always in the bottom third,” he said. “It was always hard to get parents and students enthusiastic.”
Both Clear Fork and Ontario will begin play in the MOAC at the start of the 2017-2018 school year.
Clear Fork Board of Education member Jim DeSanto supported the move, citing how the Ohio Cardinal Conference had five schools with over 750 students, while the MOAC only had one school with over 750 students.
“It’s not perfect,” he admitted. “But it’s the best situation to put kids in a more competitive situation.”
Clear Fork Board of Education member Jim Klenk cast the lone dissenting vote Thursday, citing more travel on back roads and how the MOAC could continue to change in the next few years.
The move was also applauded in Ontario.
“We are excited to become a member of the MOAC as we feel very strongly that this new league will benefit our students academically, athletically and geographically,” said Ontario Superintendent Lisa Carmichael.
Initially, the MOAC invited Clear Fork to replace outgoing Fairbanks in the conference’s Red Division, which included at the time Galion, Buckeye Valley, North Union, Jonathan Alder, Marion Harding, River Valley and Pleasant.
Simple, but quickly became complicated.
The MOAC Blue Division decided to split and become its own conference. That was the deal breaker for Clear Fork because the travel time for Blue Division’s schools – Mount Gilead, Cardington, East Knox, Centerburg, Fredericktown, Highland, Northmor and Elgin – was much less for their Junior High athletes compared with Red Division schools, according to the Inquirer’s sister paper The Bellville Star.
The Blue Division schools were an average of 21 miles each from Clear Fork, while it was 46.8 miles each for Red Division schools, the Star reported.
That left the MOAC in limbo with just seven schools. MOAC Commissioner Terry Williams said the situation was like a domino effect, which started about eight years ago across the state when league changeups started to ramp up.
Jonathan Alder announced in February that it would leave the MOAC for the 2017-18 season. The six remaining schools in the MOAC decided to to stay together and search for at least two more schools to become an eight-team league again.
Clear Fork wasn’t the only school who was interested in another league.
Since November, Shelby and Ontario were in search of another league, said Shelby Superintendent Tim Tarvin.
Both teams are about 10 miles apart, and were part of the 1944-established Northern Ohio League, which will disband after the 2016-17 season.
“Both [schools] had those hopes to stay in the same league,” Tarvin said.
Clear Fork, Ontario and Shelby all applied to join the MOAC. On Tuesday, the MOAC informed Shelby that it had accepted Ontario and Clear Fork.
“We’re disappointed,” Tarvin said. “Shelby understands and recognizes the MOAC’s decision to accept Ontario.”
He added that he appreciates how the districts’ high school principal and athletic director have worked tirelessly for the past four months to find a resolution to the situation.
“With the dismantling of the NOL, it became somewhat of an ‘every man for himself’ scenario,” Carmichael said. “As much as we tried to stay in a league with Shelby throughout this process, we had to do what is best for Ontario.”
Tarvin said he hopes the MOAC will consider expanding the league to nine or 10 schools.
But a nine-school league creates scheduling difficulties, especially for football, Williams said, but a 10-league team is still on the table.
“We are satisfied with an eight-team league,” he said. “If additional opportunities come our way, we’ll certainly look at them.”