In Greek mythology, a king named Sisyphus spent eternity in the underworld rolling a huge rock up a steep hill. Just before he reached the top of the hill, the rock always escaped him, rolling back down again, forcing Sisyphus to repeat the task forever.
Over the past few years, trying to merge the Metro Athletic Conference with the Trumbull Athletic Conference has sometimes been referred to as a “Sisyphean challenge.” Just when the two leagues seemed close to an agreement, the talks would hit a snag, the rock would roll back down the hill and the process would begin anew.
Things may have changed this week.
Superintendents from 15 of the 16 schools in the two leagues agreed unanimously to merge into the three-tiered All-American Conference effective July 1, 2008.
“It’s a go,” said Tony D’Ambrosio, superintendent of Trumbull County schools. “We still have some things we need to work out, but we’re moving forward.”
Howland, Canfield and Poland — three of the four largest schools in the MAC — will compete in the Red tier. East Liverpool was originally expected to join the Red tier, but instead will leave the MAC.
League officials are hopeful that Beaver, which opted to leave the Steel Valley Conference, will join the AAC and fill the fourth slot in the Red tier. A representative from Beaver attended Monday’s superintendent meeting but did not make a commitment.
“It’s up to the Beaver Local board,” D’Ambrosio said.
Niles, the third largest school in the MAC, will join Salem, Hubbard, Lakeview and Liberty in the White tier, while Struthers, Girard, Newton Falls, Campbell, Champion, Brookfield and LaBrae will compete in the Blue tier.
TAC commissioner Mel Staats received a letter on today informing him of the decision. The move follows several years of negotiations between the leagues.
Those talks heated up over the last month, when the superintendents originally voted to merge on Jan. 11, only to see the principals at the eight TAC schools vote against the merger.
Today’s decision is expected to be the final one.
The leagues discussed merging with the Inter-County League a few years ago, but several TAC schools were cool to the idea. The ICL then merged with the Tri-County League, forming the ITCL.
Once the idea of three tiers — rather than two — was raised, talks again got serious between the MAC and the TAC, prompting the agreement.
“Once we got that part [the three tiers], along with coming up with the basic structure, that’s what got everything moving,” D’Ambrosio said. “Basically, this has been evolving for several years.
“Some of the small schools in both leagues wanted a little more equalization in the competition. It was just a matter of timing. We needed to get everyone together to get something achieved.”
At this point, neither Boardman nor Fitch (which compete in the Canton-based Federal League) nor the six schools in the Steel Valley Conference (East, Chaney, Ursuline, Mooney, Warren Harding and Warren JFK) will be invited to join.
“We need to get our own house together first,” D’Ambrosio said.
MAC commissioner Clem Zumpella hopes coaches, fans and administrators will give the merger time.
“I think it’s a terrific idea,” Zumpella said. “The only thing I think should happen is that each school should agree on a commitment of three to five years.
“This is something that’s very new and in order to give it time to work and to give them a chance to work out any problems, they need to have some sort of commitment so schools aren’t getting frustrated and leaving.
“You need to have patience. This isn’t going to be perfect overnight.”