By Joe Scalzo
Canfield High football coach Mike Pavlansky said his goal every season is to first beat the teams in his conference, then worry about the playoffs.
“Now,” he said, “we might see those teams a second time.”
Pavlansky’s Cardinals were one of 31 Mahoning Valley teams to drop down a division under the Ohio High School Athletic Association’s new seven-division alignment. Two schools — Brookfield and Newton Falls — dropped down two spots, from Division IV to Division VI.
After playing in Division II for more than two decades, Canfield will compete in Division III along with All-American Conference American Division rivals Poland, Howland, Niles and Hubbard.
“In the past, when Howland and Canfield were the only two Division II schools in the league, we felt it was a really competitive league,” Pavlansky said. “Now, it’s even more so because we’ll all be in the same region.”
Each division will continue to have four regions with the exception of Division I, which will be split into north (35 schools) and south (37), with 16 schools qualifying in each region. Only three Valley schools — East, Fitch and Warren Harding — will compete in Division I.
The Valley has more schools in Division VII (10) than it does in the top three divisions combined (nine).
Boardman, which has competed in Division I since the OHSAA began its playoff system in 1972, will compete in Division II in the new format.
That’s good news for the Spartans, who have won just one playoff game this century in part because they competed in arguably the toughest region in Ohio: Region 1.
Boardman lost to Cleveland St. Ignatius in the first round in both 2009 and 2011 and Cleveland Glenville in the second round in 2007.
The Spartans will now be one of two Division II football schools in the Federal League (along with Uniontown Lake, which stayed in Division II) with the rest of the schools remaining in Division I.
“It was always good to play those [Region 1] teams but when you start looking at teams like St. Ignatius, where they have 500 more boys than you, you really have to be exceptional,” said first-year Spartans head coach Joe Ignazio, a 1993 Boardman graduate who spent the last nine years as an assistant. “Still, we thought we played them fairly tough.
“If you think back to what Boardman was in the 1980s and 1990s, we’re not that program as far as numbers, but we’re still obviously very competitive with whatever numbers we have.”
Eight-time state champion Cardinal Mooney dropped from Division III to Division IV, where it will play in the same region as West Branch, Struthers, Lakeview, Beaver Local, East Liverpool and Salem.
Four-time champion Ursuline remained in Division V, where it will compete with Campbell, Girard, Champion, LaBrae, Liberty, East Palestine, United and Crestview.
South Range, a perennial Division V playoff contender, dropped down to Division VI, joining Inter Tri-County League Tier One rivals Springfield, Jackson-Milton and Lisbon. Brookfield, McDonald, Newton Falls, Columbiana and Southern will also play in Division VI.
Division VII includes Western Reserve, Lowellville, Sebring, Youngstown Christian, Mathews, Mineral Ridge, Southington, Warren JFK, Leetonia and Wellsville.
“It still comes down to the league,” South Range coach Dan Yeagley said. “If you don’t do well in your league in the regular season, you’re not going to be playing in the postseason anyhow.
“It’s exciting to be playing some new teams and new people. You’ve got teams like Mogadore, Brookfield, Columbiana, Springfield, McDonald — it’s going to be very competitive all the way around.”