Monday, May 26, 2003
You can't fault Alliance High School for applying to the Northeastern Buckeye Conference.
In the words of Alliance athletic director Mike Silverthorn, "You have to try."
Alliance is nestled in the heart of NBC country. It would have natural rivalries with West Branch, Marlington, Louisville and Minerva.
The Aviators also would benefit from bigger gate receipts, less travel time to road events and more genuine interest from their fans.
"It's what our community wants," said Silverthorn, in his first year as Alliance's athletic director. "It's what our school district wants."
But where does Alliance's decision leave the Metro Athletic Conference and members Canfield, Howland, Niles, Poland, Struthers and Salem?
The MAC accepted Alliance as its seventh school, and the Aviators are set to begin competing for league titles next school year.
MAC commissioner Clem Zumpella said his conference knew that Alliance, upon leaving the Federal League, was interested in the NBC. There was simply no room at the time.
Now, with Akron Springfield intending to leave the NBC for an expanded Portage County League, a vacancy has been created, and the Aviators want in. It's up to the NBC to determine their fate.
"To put your neck out there on the line, you have to have a little feeling of support" among those in the NBC, Silverthorn said.
Alliance must first honor its two-year commitment to the MAC before it goes anywhere else.
"We have a letter to the commissioner of the NBC stating we're interested in some type of talk," Silverthorn said. "It could be a long process."
Adapting to change
The MAC, Zumpella said, is always considering options to create stability in the conference. When Girard left for the Trumbull Athletic Conference four years ago, the MAC was forced into finding a replacement. Enter Alliance.
"We're fighting survival, just like the Steel Valley did," Zumpella said. "Schools like Struthers are getting smaller. We're always worried about somebody dropping out because of the imbalance."
Alliance is a good fit for the MAC, Zumpella said, because it gives the conference more of a competitive balance.
But that plan would change if the NBC accepts the Aviators.
"We hope people don't take that as a negative or that we don't like the MAC," Silverthorn said. "The MAC has been fantastic. They've done a lot of things to get us in as quickly as they did."
Relations between the MAC and Alliance still appear to be strong. Zumpella did chide Silverthorn for the way the information was first released, but the commissioner said it was nothing that a golf outing couldn't solve.
Plan of attack
As for the MAC's future, Zumpella said there is definite interest to add schools, especially if Alliance joins the NBC.
"In the last few years we've entertained applications for anybody wanting to come into the league," Zumpella said. "We're willing to look at them."
There also has been talk of the MAC joining with another area league and creating a two-tiered system to promote competitive balance while keeping conference identity intact.
"We would create divisions, and smaller schools would have the opportunity to play smaller schools and larger schools would play larger schools," said Zumpella, who added that talks are in their early stages.
It appears no conference is excluded from change. With the NBC, Alliance sought an opportunity for the betterment of its athletic program. That decision should remind the MAC that the job is never complete.
XBrian Richesson covers high school sports for The Vindicator. Write to him at email@example.com.