Monday, March 5, 2001
Girard High's exodus from the Metro Athletic Conference a little more than two years ago was cause for concern.
At least for MAC officials, who worried about the future of the league.
"Here we were with six schools and there's always the possibility that another school could show up and say, 'We're going somewhere else,' " MAC commissioner Clem Zumpella said.
That's what motivated the MAC, which went to work seeking a replacement for Girard while the Indians were joining the Trumbull Athletic Conference.
"We really never looked for anybody until Girard withdrew," Zumpella said.
Taking the lead: One of the schools that looked enticing was Alliance, located in the northeastern part of Stark County. The Aviators had fallen on hard times in the challenging Federal League.
With its opponents' school size increasing and its own performance suffering, Alliance sought to exit the Federal League. The school announced that intention in April.
"We had to make the decision, 'Do we stay and live with the situation or do we decide to find something else that suits our needs?' " Alliance athletic director Doug Noonan said.
After examining its options, Alliance came to a decision. On Tuesday night, the board of education voted to accept the MAC's invitation to join the league in fall 2003.
"It's a big plus for us," Zumpella said. "It gives us seven teams again. They have a fine program, filled with tradition. As time goes on, they'll bring good competition to our league."
A closer look: Three main factors are considered when a league wants to expand, Zumpella said -- level of competition, distance between schools and number of sports.
Alliance won the Federal League football title and earned a playoff berth in 1996, and the Aviators went 7-3 the following season.
Since then, however, the growing difference in school size has led to their demise in the league, most noticeably on the football field. Some of the non-revenue sports still have remained competitive.
MAC officials have reason to believe the Aviators will be competitive in their conference.
Supporting that claim is school size, based on the Ohio High School Athletic Association's 2001-02 enrollment figures.
With 773 students, Alliance would become the second-largest school in the MAC behind Howland (827). The Aviators rank above Niles (753), Canfield (749), Poland (663), Salem (638) and Struthers (480).
No one objected to Alliance becoming part of the MAC, Zumpella said. But if there was ever any drawback, it was travel time.
"It was the biggest obstacle early," Noonan said. "In Stark County you get conditioned to look toward Canton and Massillon. So when you start looking to the east, people aren't as familiar, so they think it's so far away."
On the road: Noonan said Federal League road trips were often lengthy, too. A trip to Wooster, for example, was 53 miles.
According to the average distance between schools, Alliance will have to travel six more miles (33-27) to play MAC schools than it did in the Federal League.
Officials apparently feel that difference is minor compared to the benefits the new set-up will bring.
"Our shortest trip got shorter [16 miles to Salem, 17 to Canton GlenOak] and our longest trip got shorter [45 miles to Howland, 53 to Wooster]," Noonan said.
So, what does the future hold for the MAC? It would welcome even more growth -- the conference has already been contacted by at least two schools.
For now, though, it's content.
Girard has moved forward. Now we know the MAC has, too.
XBrian Richesson covers high school sports for The Vindicator. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.