The leagues' teams will be divided into two tiers: an upper tier and a lower tier.
By TOM WILLIAMS
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
NORTH LIMA -- The 2005 season will be the swansong for the current Inter-County League and Tri-County League lineups.
Next fall, the leagues will merge into the "Inter Tri County League," says ICL commissioner Jim Pepperney.
For football, that means two divisions based on size that should create much more balanced competition.
"I think it's the greatest thing," Pepperney said. "The leagues were formed years ago when communities were pretty much equal. That's changed.
"Some, like South Range, Crestview and Springfield, have grown," Pepperney said, which has made it hard for the smallest schools to compete in most sports.
In 2006, the new league will have upper and lower brackets that create a much more level playing field.
Dividing the tiers
The eight teams in its upper tier will be South Range, Springfield, Mineral Ridge, Columbiana, Crestview, East Palestine, Lisbon and United.
The rest will go into the lower tier: Jackson-Milton, Lowellville, McDonald, Western Reserve, Leetonia, Sebring, Southern and Wellsville.
South Range coach Dan Yeagley, the dean of ICL coaches, says he is "really looking forward to the merger because I think there needs to be a realignment. Nothing against anybody but there just needed to be a change.
"[Both leagues] have been around for a long time," Yeagley said as he begins his 11th season. "We needed a change where we started grouping common-sized schools together."
For the most part over the past 10 seasons, the larger schools in the ICL and TCL have enjoyed more success on the football. (An exception was the 2002 Lowellville team that won the ICL despite its Division VI status).
Seeing both sides
Mineral Ridge coach Shawn Brown says he sees good and not-so-good in the merger.
"The good part is that the winner of the upper tier is going to go far into the playoffs," Brown said. "Every week will be a playofflike atmosphere. Several of the teams could qualify and play rematches."
The flip side, Brown says, is that Mineral Ridge and Columbiana are Div. VI schools that will be playing mostly against Div. IV and V squads.
As for the final ICL season, Yeagley says Browns' Rams offer his Raiders a hurdle.
"Mineral Ridge won the title last year -- it's their title to lose," Yeagley said. "We're going to have to go there and play well.
"They lost [tailback] Levi Leigh [to graduation] but they've got Micah Hall back and some other good skill kids."
Yeagley expects Springfield to improve after a 7-3 season and that Lowellville with veteran John Turco coaching and McDonald could be spoilers.
Brown says that Rams' strengths will be "our speed and quickness. Our overall team is faster than last year.
"Every week, every team will be out to get us," Brown said of his defending champions. "Every team wants to be the champ in a league's last year."
Brown expects South Range to be strong up front, with four offensive linemen returning.
He agrees with Yeagley that Springfield, Lowellville and McDonald will offer challenges.
Before the ICL schedule gets started, the Raiders will play at Crestview in what you could call a "Inter Tri County League" preview.
"That's going to be a big one," South Range lineman Greg Snyder said. "They've got that same team they've had for two years. They're seniors now and they've been playing [varsity] since they were sophomores."
The good news for ICL and TCL schools is that matchups like Crestview/South Range are about to become a regular feature while blowouts should happen less often.