JACKSON — In exactly one year from now, it doesn’t appear as if Jackson High School will have an athletic conference to compete in.
However, Jackson — even as an independent — will in fact field athletic teams.
In addressing the Jackson City Schools Board of Education at Tuesday night’s regular monthly meeting, Jackson City Schools Superintendent Phil Howard played the role of soothsayer — and unfortunately was a bearer of bad news.
But Howard also clarified questions — and even concerns — he had received about Jackson “not going to have athletics after the next school year.”
“We may not have an athletic league, but we will have athletics,” said Howard. “I want to make sure that is clear and understood. I’ve been asked about ‘not having athletics.’ Our athletes unfortunately won’t have the opportunity to win league championships or make all-league. But that will not keep us from fielding athletic teams.”
Tuesday marked the Jackson BOE’s first meeting since Jackson’s bid for formal membership into the Southern Ohio Conference was rejected on May 13.
It was also Howard’s first public comments about Jackson’s limbo league status since the most recent BOE meeting May 12.
In the past 15-and-a-half months, JHS has formally applied for membership into the SOC, the Tri-Valley Conference, the Ohio Valley Conference and the South Central Ohio League.
Unfortunately, there were no takers.
Jackson, in the past three-and-a-half months, was officially turned down by two leagues while three others showed no interest in expansion.
Howard said Jackson never applied for the Chillicothe-centered Scioto Valley Conference— one of those uninterested three.
“Every month we talk about this and it’s the same thing. Our league situation is not good,” said Howard. “The only five leagues that made sense for us to join are not interested in expansion. That leaves us with nowhere to go after next year.”
Jackson was scrambling to find a new athletic conference with the apparent demise of the SEOAL (Southeastern Ohio Athletic League) — the oldest non-city athletic league in the state and which has been in existence for 90 years.
But the backbreaker for the SEOAL came on Wednesday, Nov. 19, when Gallia Academy officially voted to join the OVC starting in 2016-17.
Jackson, Logan and Gallia Academy are charter members of the SEOAL, while Warren joined in 1986 — after being a charter member of the TVC.
Indeed, a three-team league simply will not survive, and Howard declared “the SEOAL is dead” during one interview with The Jackson County Times-Journal.
If Jackson is unable to find a conference before the 2016-17 academic year, all expectations are that the Ironmen and Ironladies will begin competing as an independent.
If Jackson is forced to be independent, its scheduling crisis only increases, especially for football.
Howard has maintained that he wants JHS student-athletes to have an athletic league in which to compete in — with the subsequent opportunity for those same student-athletes to earn all-league honors.
Seven years ago, Jackson did apply for membership into both the TVC and SOC, but was denied by both leagues.
Last March (2014), Jackson, Warren, Logan and Gallia Academy applied to the TVC as a bloc, but the now 16-team TVC turned down all four.
The TVC’s current by-laws prohibit it from “absorbing any conference or group of schools”.
On March 11 of this year, the TVC Board of Control twice turned down Jackson by identical 13-1 votes — once including the sport of football and once not including the sport of football.
Two of the 16 schools — Belpre and River Valley — were not represented in person and thus their votes did not count.
The only official “yes” vote for Jackson is believed to have come from Nelsonville-York.
Then in April, already rejected three times by the TVC, and not even voted upon for inclusion by the SCOL, Jackson shifted its attention to the 16-school SOC —having officially applied there along with the soon-to-be eight-team OVC.
However, Howard stated at the April 14 meeting of the BOE that the OVC was unofficially uninterested in Jackson.
In a roll-call vote, in accepting Jackson as the conference’s 17th member, 11 of the SOC’s 16 schools said “no”, while only four schools said “yes”.
Jackson needed a dozen votes to approve its membership, but instead only received support from Pike Eastern, Sciotoville East, South Webster and Symmes Valley.
The only school not present at the meeting was Green.
Howard said with Logan likely to land in either the Mid-State League or Ohio Capital Conference, and with Warren weighing an invitation from the East Central Ohio League, Jackson is left as “the lone wolf.”
The superintendent said scheduling, especially for football, is already a serious concern.
He said the 2016 Ironmen still have open dates for the final two weeks of the season — which are also the two most difficult weeks in filling football schedules for independents.
This season, on one-year contracts, the Ironmen host Granville on Sept. 19 and Oxford Talawanda on Oct. 24.
“Being independent is not good for a lot of reasons,” said Howard. “We will be traveling greater distances and having harder times getting schools to come here and play us. Teams traveling that far are not going to bring big crowds, so that hurts your gate revenue and hurts support groups trying to make money through concessions, etc. It’s just not a good situation for us.”
But, unfortunately for Jackson, it appears that reality is officially less than one year away.