The Miami Trace and Washington C.H. school districts, along with three other districts, have decided to leave the South Central Ohio League (SCOL) at the conclusion of the 2016-17 school year.
This decision came following a series of meetings in recent weeks to discuss the possible expansion of the eight-team SCOL. Miami Trace, Washington C.H., Greenfield McClain, Hillsboro and Chillicothe have expressed an intent to either merge with an existing league or invite other schools to join them in forming an eight-team league, commencing with the 2017-18 school year.
“The SCOL has recently been approached by Jackson City Schools about joining the league, however the size and location of Jackson presents a concern for some Clinton County districts that do not favor the addition,” said Miami Trace Superintendent David Lewis. “Chillicothe, Greenfield McClain, Hillsboro, Miami Trace, Washington Court House, as well as Jackson, all participate in the Southeast District and range in enrollment from just under 3,000 (Chillicothe) to just over 2,000 (Greenfield).”
The three Clinton County schools in the SCOL are East Clinton, Clinton-Massie and Wilmington.
Meetings concerning possible expansion in the SCOL began after rumors circulated that East Clinton was actively pursuing leaving the SCOL to join another league. On Jan. 7, Lewis called a meeting with all superintendents, high school principals and athletic directors from all members of the SCOL in order to talk about the future of the league.
“East Clinton informed us that they had applied for another league at one time, but they were committed to the SCOL,” said Lewis. “We started talking about expansion and possibly adding enough schools to go to two divisions based on size, competitive balance and location. Soon after, Jackson applied for membership in the SCOL.”
On Feb. 5, Jackson made a presentation in front of other school officials about joining the league. “Following the presentation, we all talked about it and the Clinton County schools were not in favor. They cited distance and travel, and for East Clinton, the issue was also about addressing competitive balance within the league.”
It was decided to allow an extension for applicants to apply for the league as there was another school interested in the possibility, according to a joint press release issued from Clinton Massie, East Clinton and Wilmington schools. That extension was to be March 2 and the vote was then to be held on March 7 at the Board of Control meeting.
“All of the schools except for the Clinton County schools wanted to take Jackson in,” said Lewis. “In order to expand, we have to get to nine before we get to 10, which was the goal. But when it became clear that we didn’t have the support of the Clinton County schools, it became clear that we needed to settle on a different direction.”
Washington City Schools Superintendent Matthew McCorkle said the instability of the league led to this decision by the departing school districts. “There is a strong alliance between the schools in the southeast district, when you talk about us, Miami Trace, Greenfield, Hillsboro and Chillicothe,” he said. “And for our student-athletes, I think the ability to be exclusive to the southeast district is important. We participate in the same tournaments and we’re all very familiar with each other.”
The press release from the Clinton County schools states: “The news of the secession comes as a surprise to the Clinton County Districts. We are disappointed in the breakup of the SCOL as well as the process that these five took to get to this point. No open discussion with the Clinton County schools took place; in January, a face-to-face statement of solidarity, to the February announcement of their decision to leave.”
According to the Wilmington News Journal, Wilmington City Schools Superintendent Ron Sexton said, “It’s basically the Highland County schools and the Fayette County schools have decided it’s better to keep Chillicothe and Jackson and that shocks me,” said Sexton. “I think it’s we (five schools) want to expand to the southeast and we don’t want Wilmington and Clinton-Massie (and East Clinton) involved. They (the five schools) were outwardly plotting to get rid of people.
“These are not the kinds of schools I think we want to deal with. In the foreseeable future, if they don’t want us in their league, we don’t want to play them in anything.”
The five school districts that are leaving, as well as Jackson, are now considering whether to start their own league with six teams or to join an existing league. “We can start a league with six members,” said Lewis. “Then we would try to entice two other schools to get to eight. Also, we have had informal discussions with other leagues. So both are options right now.”
Both Lewis and McCorkle praised the Jackson district. “They are just a really good fit with the other southeast district schools,” said McCorkle. “The distance will not be a factor for us…it’s only about 40 minutes away. Their facilities are also excellent.”
“Long-term, this is the best option for us as a district,” said Lewis. “There is some stability here with the six schools. No break-up like this is ever easy.”
South Central Ohio League commissioner Jim Winner told the (Hillsboro) Times Gazette “as far as the league athletic directors and high school principals go (SCOL Board of Control), nothing like this has ever been discussed.”
Winner went on to say he could not speak for the superintendents (of the SCOL schools) because he has no dealings with them. He added, “But you never know. The world’s a funny place.”
After breaking up in the early 1990s, the SCOL got back together in the fall of 2003 with Miami Trace, Washington C.H., Hillsboro, McClain, London and Madison Plains. Then, in the fall of 2005, Clinton-Massie joined. East Clinton joined in the fall of 2012, which was also the last year (2012-13 school year) for London and Madison Plains in the league. They left to join the Mid-State League.
Chillicothe joined in the fall of 2013 and Wilmington joined in the fall of 2014.
Reach Ryan Carter at 740-313-0352 or on Twitter @rywica