By Greg Gulas
From his playing days, to his coaching days, to serving as athletic director at Hubbard High School and for the past 12 years as the only commissioner of the Inter-Tri County League, Paul Andraso’s affiliation with area sports spans seven decades.
When the last ITCL contest is played in May and its members begin new league affiliations in the fall, Andraso will do anything but ride off into the sunset.
Instead, he’ll make himself available, if and when necessary in order to assist schools that he has overseen with their upcoming transition.
Andraso told the Curbstone Coaches during Monday’s weekly meeting that there are many reasons behind a league’s demise, noting that the day when leagues lasted 50 or 60 years will soon be, if not already are a thing of the past.
As commissioner of the ITCL, Andraso said leagues face a multitude of challenges each and every year.
He felt that his league however, did an excellent job of addressing those many concerns.
“Uneven growth, schools that cease to exist, consolidation, open enrollment, recruitment accusations and rivalry changes are just some of the many challenges a league faces,” Andraso said. “I was proud of the way we dealt with those issues over the past 12 years.”
Teams like Damascus, Kinsman, Fowler, Goshen, Scienceville, Vienna, Hartford, East, North Lima, Farmington, Woodrow Wilson, Greenford and Warren Western Reserve are just some of the schools with league affiliations that no longer exist or have consolidated.
Bona-fide leagues such as the City Series, Steel Valley Conference, Mahoning Valley Conference, Metro Athletic Conference, Trumbull Athletic Conference, TAC-8 and original All-American Conference had storied histories, having since fallen by the wayside.
“We also had conferences like the Trumbull Interscholastic Association, Turnpike Conference, the Big-8 Basketball Conference, All-American Athletic Conference, Portage County League and Inter Valley Conference leave their marks, but failed to last any length of time,” Andraso said. “The Inter-County League and Tri-County League merged and for over a decade had a pretty good run, yet in a few months even we will dissolve.”
Andraso noted that when schools cease to exist, the burden is placed on the league to find a suitable replacement or be content to move forward with a lesser number.
“When Warren Western Reserve closed, that signaled the end of the AAAC. When schools consolidated, finding a league that would be the best competitive fit was paramount,” he stated. “There was uneven growth and a school like Boardman went from the TCL, to the Steel Valley Conference, to the Federal League to its current home in the All-American Conference.”
Changes in rivalries hurt leagues as well according to Andraso, adding that lack of conference success, transportation and recruitment accusations were problems of which they must also content.
“At some point, rivalries became less competitive and part of that had to do with size variance. Lack of league success remains a major concern for schools,” he said. “There are recruitment accusations, transportation issues and with open enrollment costing schools $6,000 per student, you can see that it gets contentious at times.”
Scheduling for all sports in order to maintain balance, all the while trying to preserve existing rivalries is also a challenge.
“In basketball, such as in the ITCL and AAC, teams will play each other twice in their division and everyone else once for a total of nearly 20 overall games,” Andraso said. “In football, there are mandatory crossover games but schools can agree to an opt-out clause. Challenging is the best way to describe the process.”
Two new leagues are set to fill the void created when the ITCL dissolves.
John Mang will serve as commissioner of the newly formed Mahoning Valley Athletic Conference and Howdy Friend is ready to oversee the Eastern Ohio Athletic Conference.
The ITCL Blue Division, which consists of Jackson-Milton, Lowellville, McDonald, Mineral Ridge, Sebring and Western Reserve, will add Waterloo and ITCL member Springfield Local to form the MVAC.
ITCL White Division members Columbiana, East Palestine, Leetonia, Southern Local, Toronto, United Local and Wellsville will comprise the eight-team EOAC.
Next week, Elaine Jacobs, Youngstown State’s associate athletic director and senior women’s administrator, will serve as guest speaker.