The departure of Southington High from the East Suburban Conference coincided with the on-going change at schools in the Inter-County and Tri-County leagues.
Because some of the smallest schools in the ICL and TCL were worried about staying competitive, they pushed for a merger of the two leagues, creating a two-tier system of big- and small-school divisions.
"There were several schools interested in that, but the board voted not to explore," said John Davis, Inter-County League commissioner, who added the push was being made by athletic directors.
Fine for now: Although schools such as Springfield and South Range are growing, the ICL is stable, Davis said.
"We're sitting in the catbird's seat. That's why superintendents didn't want to do anything," Davis said. "They have a good thing going."
Not only have schools from the Trumbull Athletic Conference expressed interest in the ICL, Davis said, but so did Southington, which chose to leave the ESC mostly because of travel reasons.
The ESC is made up of schools in Ashtabula (Sts. John & amp; Paul), Cuyahoga (Lutheran East), Geauga (Ledgemont) and Lake (Fairport Harbor) counties, making travel, especially in the winter, long and difficult.
"We basically became a Cleveland-oriented league," Southington principal David Wilson said.
Southington has offered to remain in the ESC for football, but its other sports will soon compete in the new Northern Athletic Conference with Bloomfield, Bristol, Lordstown and Maplewood, all exiting members of the ESC who don't play football.
Thumbs up: The conference move is a logical one for the Wildcats. The NAC, which begins competition in the fall of next year, should help the schools, all from Trumbull County, develop healthy rivalries.
"The movements began with non-football schools who saw travel as being a headache," Wilson said. "We took a look at joining the ICL."
Davis said, "If those meetings [on merging the ICL and TCL] would have progressed with the athletic directors, Southington would have been considered."
If he had "all the power in the world," Wilson said, he would look into re-creation of area leagues.
"The TCL and ICL have schools in them that have grown too large for those leagues," Wilson said. "Springfield and South Range have grown too large to play Lowellville and Western Reserve."
Based on 2001-02 enrollment figures listed by the Ohio High School Athletic Association, Springfield (151 boys, 157 girls) and South Range (139-151) lead the ICL. They are followed by Mineral Ridge (129-134), Mathews (116-130), Jackson-Milton (116-119), Western Reserve (123-106), McDonald (100-96) and Lowellville (82-75).
"It's the same thing in the TCL," Wilson said. "Sebring can't compete football-wise, and Leetonia has had trouble," as has Southern.
East Palestine (215-197) is the biggest school in the TCL, followed by United (176-178), Crestview (156-160), Lisbon (160-139), Columbiana (135-128), Leetonia (112-109), Southern (116-99) and Sebring (97-81).
Possible solution: Wilson is a proponent of the two-tier system, including Southington (90-77) in the small-school division, but he doesn't foresee it happening anytime soon.
"They [the ICL and TCL] have two leagues that are very solid," Wilson said. "[But], if you talk to people from smaller schools, they can see it happening."
If the disparity in enrollment and level of competition continues to widen between schools, the ICL and TCL will have to take action.
Talk of a two-tier system is at least a start into providing a solution to a future problem.
XBrian Richesson covers high school sports for The Vindicator. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.