A softball game worth playing

Mark May 9 on your calendar and pray it doesn't rain.
For the first time since 1997, the softball teams from Boardman and Poland high schools will play each other.
What has taken so long?
Boardman is the defending Division I state champion, and Poland is the Div. II state runner-up and winner of the past 15 Metro Athletic Conference titles.
No doubt, these schools, located within a few miles of each other, should meet annually on the diamond, no matter their level of talent but more so now because of it. They will play May 9 in Poland, but will they continue to play in the future?
Recent attempts
In their defense, games were scheduled each of the past two seasons.
"Weather dictated otherwise," Poland coach Reid Lamport said.
Still, the only reason Boardman and Poland met in 1997, and the season prior, was because they were paired in the Division I district tournament. They ended up splitting the games.
"That was the beginning of the Bill Amero era, and Boardman just continued to get better and better every year," said Lamport, referring to the Boardman coach.
Lamport began as head coach at Poland in 1990 and remembers playing Boardman at the outset. But for most of the '90s, games between the schools were nonexistent.
"For whatever reason," Lamport said, "we just didn't play."
Examining the issues
Lamport and Amero have stayed in touch, so it's not like communication is a problem. Ironically, it was Amero, when he first started at Boardman, who picked up some tips from Lamport.
"I leaned on him for an awful lot of information," Amero said. "I knew Poland was a success. I picked his brain a little."
For a number of years, Poland was moving back and forth between Div. I and II, which, Lamport reasoned, may have contributed to the absence of games against Boardman.
"If you share the same division, it's not as enticing a game because you may end up playing [each other] in the tournament," he said. "You don't want to show your hand too early.
"It's more enticing now that we're in different divisions."
Which is another reason the schools should play each other consistently -- there is nothing to lose and everything to gain.
"Boardman can get us ready to play top Div. II teams, and hopefully we can help prepare them for Div. I opponents," Lamport said. "It makes more sense to play later in the year."
Lamport compared the potential for a Boardman-Poland softball rivalry to that of the current rivalry between softball powers Tallmadge and Akron Springfield, who meet annually in Akron's Firestone Stadium.
"I always thought we could maybe do the same thing," he said.
Amero said he would be receptive in helping to maintain the growth of the rivalry, including the creation of an annual home-and-away series.
"I think we should do it," Amero said. "We're four miles apart, and a lot of kids from Poland and Boardman know each other."
Looking ahead
The Boardman athletic program is undergoing major change by leaving the Steel Valley Conference for the Federal League. But maintaining local rivalries, especially with Poland in softball, still can be possible.
"Bill hasn't shied away from [scheduling] anybody. We like to think we don't, as well," Lamport said. "For that reason, this is a pretty good match-up."
One worth watching and keeping.
Progress will be made the day in which the only thing that can prevent a Boardman-Poland softball game each season is this: Rain.
XBrian Richesson covers high school sports for The Vindicator. Write to him at richesson@vindy.com.

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