Harding creating workable league

It's been 51 days since the Boardman and Austintown boards of education voted to leave the Steel Valley Conference to join the Federal League in 2003.
And in less than two months, Warren Harding has managed to pull off something pretty remarkable -- they've all but finalized plans for a new 12-team football conference.
It took Boardman and Fitch about six years of thought and planning to join the Federal League. Campbell and Warren JFK have been independents for 10 years.
At best, I figured Harding would have found a league replacement by the fall of 2003. At worst, Harding would be independent.
But Harding didn't panic. Raiders football coach Thom McDaniels and Harding athletic director Paul Trina brought together some very different schools and created a workable football league.
The next meeting is May 16. If all goes well, the schools could vote on the All-American Football Conference, which could begin play as early as 2003.
What it looks like
The AAFC has three divisions, Red, White and Blue.
Red, the largest division, has Harding, Cleveland St. Ignatius, Lakewood St. Edward and Massillon Washington. (Massillon, by the way, was officially turned down by the Federal League last month.)
"We think those four are pretty committed," Trina said.
White, the parochial division, has two probable schools -- Ursuline and Mooney -- and two maybes -- St. Thomas Aquinas and Canton Central Catholic. Aquinas is leaning toward joining. Central is leaning toward not joining. If Central decides not to join, Trina will invite Cuyahoga Falls Walsh Jesuit, Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary or Akron Hoban. JFK was invited to join, but declined.
Blue, the smallest division, has two probable schools -- Steubenville and East Liverpool. Chaney and the new Youngstown consolidated school have been invited, but seem lukewarm to the idea, Trina said.
That's bad news because there aren't two other independent public schools in the area. But there is one: Campbell.
"That's a thought," Trina said. "We haven't talked to them."
The league would crown three champions and the schools would each play five league games.
Parochial schools in the Red Division would play three parochial schools and two public schools.
Public schools in the Red Division would play three public schools and two parochial schools.
In the White Division, the parochial schools play four parochial schools and one public school.
In the Blue Division, the public schools play four public schools and one parochial school.
Finalizing plans
Each school's football coach will join the athletic directors at the next meeting to air their concerns.
"But we cannot continue to meet forever," Trina said. "I'll probably start pressing them to make a decision because we're looking for a final commitment."
That way, the teams have enough time to schedule non-league games for 2004 and 2005.
"Hopefully, we can have some conclusion," Trina said. "And if things go well, I think we can turn this around really quick and make it a basketball league. We could eventually open it up other sports."
It's not a perfect solution, but it's much better than independence.
The schools get league titles, all-league teams and a lot fewer scheduling hassles. (St. Ignatius, for example, plays as many as three out-of-state teams in football each year.)
"I've read some things on the Internet to see the fan reaction and I think in all areas it's been very positive," Trina said. "The only negative I've heard is that the All-American Football Conference name has been used before.
"They think we should use a new one."
I'm not sure about an official name, but if this league gets finalized in less than two months, I'd call it impressive.
XJoe Scalzo covers high school sports for The Vindicator. Write to him at scalzo@vindy.com.

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