Warren Harding, Mooney and Ursuline remain without a future league.
By JOE SCALZO
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
YOUNGSTOWN -- Don Bucci sat in his office chair in the locker room of Cardinal Mooney High in early July, his left hand gripping a coffee cup, his right index finger tapping a cigarette.
"So, do you miss coaching?" he was asked.
He paused for a moment.
"I miss it when things aren't going well," said Bucci, who retired from Mooney after the 1999 season. "I feel like I want to step in and fix it. When things are going well, I don't think about it.
"But we should be better next year. Things are looking up."
The Cardinals had their worst football season in school history in 2001, going 1-9. Their only win came by forfeit after Ursuline was found using an academically ineligible player.
Months later, Mooney got another punch in the gut.
Boardman and Fitch left the Steel Valley Conference in March to join the Federal League, essentially dismantling the SVC. The three remaining teams, Mooney, Ursuline and Warren Harding, have spent the last five months trying, and failing, to find a new league.
"We fully expect to be an independent," Harding football coach Thom McDaniels said.
Last spring, Harding tried to form an All-American Football Conference with 11 other Northeast Ohio schools, including Mooney and Ursuline. But Harding officials couldn't secure a commitment from many of the schools and the idea was scrapped.
The Raiders talked with several schools about increased scheduling -- Massillon Washington, Cleveland St. Ignatius, Lakewood St. Edward and Strongsville, especially -- but have few league options available.
The best chance could come in 2004, when Rayen and Wilson consolidate into one high school.
"That's certainly a possibility down the road," Bucci, the Mooney athletic director, said. "We'd be willing to talk about it, but we're certainly not going to sit idle in the meantime."
Last April, the Youngstown Diocesan schools (Mooney, Ursuline, Warren JFK, Canton Central Catholic, St. Thomas Aquinas) formed a Catholic conference to address scheduling problems. The schools will play each other at least once a year in everything but football. They will play each other in football at least once every six years.
Each school is still free to join an outside league.
"We're don't want to be independent so we'll try to join some league as soon as we can," Bucci said. "Independent play is just horrible."
Fitch and Boardman, meanwhile, met with the other Federal League schools in April to schedule all 16 sports through 2005. The transition is going smoothly, said Jim Fox, who retired as Boardman's athletic director in June.
"It was truly amazing," he said. "First we identified the problems, especially with travel, and then we asked how do we overcome those problems. The other schools were extremely cooperative and helpful and we were able to get the schedules done in a single day."
The schedules were approved unanimously by school administrators, Fox said.
Dave Smercansky replaced Fox as Boardman's athletic director and will work with Fitch athletic Dick Kenney as the two schools make the transition beginning next fall.
"It's going to take time to develop this, so I hope people are patient," Kenney said. "But it would be very unfair to look at the first year and say, 'I told you so.' The Steel Valley wasn't built in a day. But we're going to build the rivalries and have some pretty good contests over the next few years. I expect great things."