Over the past few years, rumors have swirled around the state that the Ohio High School Athletic Association would expand to a seventh division for high school football.
That rumor came to fruition on April 12 when the OHSAA announced that its Board of Control had, somewhat stunningly, approved that seventh division. Thanks to that ruling, the top 72 largest boys enrollment schools in the state will remain Division I in football. The remaining football playing schools in the state will be divided into the other divisions. The end result is that 46 schools have been subtracted from Division I. Also, 30 of the 44 local schools that play football will have to switch divisions. Two of those schools, however, will not be forced to leave the state's top tier. Both Boardman and Fitch are around 630 in enrollment, which means they are large enough to stay in Division I. It may seem as if staying in the best conference would be reason to celebrate, but that news was met with sour reactions on each campus. Two of the top Spartans were in serious moods when talking about the recent changes.
Boardman head coach Mark D'Eramo was upset because he envisioned that the Division I tier would be split between the larger schools and the smaller schools. That is not how the splitting up of the institutions will happen. The Spartans will be one of the smallest Division I outfits in the new format. Coach D'Eramo's boss at Boardman echoed his thoughts.
"The concept was good except the end result did not resolve the problem with the disparity in sizes of schools in Division I," said Boardman Athletic Director Dave Smercansky in an email. "We are extremely small in comparison to the schools at the top of Division I, most of the time three and four times as big as the local Division I schools. If we were in the lower division, then the concept would have some merit. If you look at the other divisions, there is not a huge discrepancy between the top and bottom teams."
Fitch head football coach Phil Annarella was startled when he heard the news of the Division I expansion for the first time, but ended up being philosophical about it.
"It is what it is," Annarella exclaimed. "We still have to go out on the field and play football no matter what."
Playing football each Friday may not be the challenge the local schools encounter. Getting smaller schools to line up across the field may be.
"We still need to take care of business during the regular season," said Fitch Athletic Director Rob Conklin, "but I don't know the mindset of some of the prior Division II schools we used to play as far as scheduling goes."
If the Falcons are lucky enough to advance past the regular season and enter the state playoffs, some real problems may occur.
"I hate to sound selfish, but this whole thing is not to our advantage," said Conklin honestly. "Considering our enrollment is at 633 we will be one of the smallest schools (in Division I). This limits our ability to play a school our size."
At least the Falcons and the Spartans have another season's worth of games before size really starts to matter. This new format will not go into effect until the 2013 campaign.