Their departure signals the demise of the 53-year-old conference.
By JOE SCALZO
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
YOUNGSTOWN -- For more than 50 years, there was one thing you could count on in the Steel Valley Conference -- change.
But through all of that change, there were two SVC schools who never left -- Fitch and Boardman.
Fitch was a charter member of the SVC when the league began in 1949. Boardman entered in 1951. They grew from post-war farm communities into the two biggest, and most athletically successful, schools in Mahoning County.
That success become a liability.
"With the diversity of the conference, the different sizes of the schools and the reputation of the conference, it became increasingly difficult to schedule games, especially in basketball and football," said Jim Fox, who served as Boardman's assistant or head athletic director from 1987 to 2002.
"We ended up traveling a great deal -- to Ashland, Rocky River, Columbus, anywhere we could to play quality teams and Division I opponents," Fox said.
From March 1984 to February 1985, Niles, Howland, Warren Western Reserve and Warren Harding all left the SVC. Only four teams remained until Warren Western Reserve and Warren Harding consolidated in 1990 and re-entered the SVC.
"That was tough," said Dick Kenney, Fitch's athletic director since 1989. "Ever since I've been involved, the attempt by the league has been to expand. But there was very little interest in our league."
SVC commissioners Cecil Duffett and Mike Butch worked tirelessly to other find schools interested in joining the league. But with no other Division I schools in the tri-county area, and Youngstown's population declining, they had no luck.
Canton McKinley wanted to join only in football and Warren JFK wanted to join in everything but football, but neither would commit in all sports.
Boardman and Fitch started looking elsewhere.
"We began to see the Federal League as an option," Fox said. "We noticed that the schools had good track, tennis and cross country teams and they were always well represented at state level."
School administrators from Boardman and Fitch, along with Fox and Kenney, met with Federal League officials in 1999 to talk about scheduling.
"Initially, we had no thoughts of joining that conference," Fox said. "The Federal League was very stable at the time. Then some movement started taking place, and Alliance and Wooster began looking in different directions."
Fox and Kenney wanted the two leagues to merge, but the Federal wasn't interested. In May of 2001, Boardman principal Louis Rucci and Fitch principal Doug McGlynn met with Poland principal Brian Wolf to talk about the SVC affiliating with the Metro Athletic Conference. The MAC wasn't interested.
A month later, the Federal League told Boardman and Fitch there were not enough votes for membership.
But when Wooster and Alliance announced their intentions to leave, the Federal League opened its door to expansion. On March 6, the league invited Boardman and Fitch to join. After unanimous votes by their school boards, the schools withdrew from the SVC on March 14.
With only three teams remaining and no options for expansion, the SVC was pronounced dead.
"I thought that was a slam to Ursuline, Mooney and Warren Harding," Kenney said. "It makes it sound like we were the conference.
"Why does the Steel Valley Conference have to end?" Kenney said. "Haven't there been changes before? I would love to see them keep it going."
Fox and Kenney both expected a backlash about the decision to leave. Instead, most of the feedback was positive.
"If you're not trying to improve, what's going to happen is that everybody is going to catch you," Fox said. "I have nothing but fond memories of our time in the Steel Valley Conference. We've built some great relationships and great rivalries over the years.
"I certainly hope that continues."