YOUNGSTOWN, OH (WKBN) – Following the 2017 spring sports season, the ITCL will officially come to a close as the 16 member schools will go off into different directions. It is anticipated that the league will splinter into a group of northern schools forming a new league and the southern schools forming a separate league. A few ITCL member schools may also be left out in the cold to search for an altogether new conference to participate in.
While the decision to disband the league was made by the superintendents as they are the governing body of the league, it is at the ground level where the athletic directors and coaches will really feel the consequences as they have to adjust to new homes and possibly new competition.
While perhaps some coaches and athletic directors understand the circumstances and the reason for the breakup, none of them seemed to express any enjoyment in the recent events. One coach at this weekend’s coach’s clinic even went so far as to say that the coaches collectively are mad about the recent events.
“I would first like to say the disbandment of the ITCL is a very sad issue for Western Reserve. We feel that the league as a whole when it was first established offered a chance for more competitive games across athletic programs. The opportunity gave schools a chance to improve their programs and excel. Some did this, others did not,” Reserve’s athletic director Jeff Martig remarked. “I feel that the schools who didn’t make the effort to get better are the ones who are trying to submarine the league in order to have an easier road to winning championships.”
“If you’re playing people with your enrollment size, that’s the only thing that makes sense,” Western Reserve’s outspoken football coach Andy Hake remarked. “If it’s on enrollment and you’re not doing well then you need to coach your kids harder, because that’s America’s problem right now. Not telling the teams that have been successful you’re out.”
For one school, their coach is very adamant about their role and explaining how he feels they are being pointed at, “I’m so old and tired of being blamed – if not me personally then Columbiana – being blamed for this mess. Our Superintendent – Don Mook’s only crime was trying too hard to hold this 16 team league together. We – He – I had nothing to do with this break up,” Clippers colorful coach Bob Spaite exclaimed.
“Just my opinion – but everything was fine for the 1st 5 years, but once the enrollment changed and teams were forced to move up and down, suddenly panic set in. Right then the 15-16 or 17 schools should have said, “You want to leave – go”. If the bottom tier would have split off, so what, that was the league rule. In the old TCL, when Sebring came to the conclusion they could no longer compete in football, they chose to leave. OK, no hard feelings; best of luck,” Spaite explained.
Hake also had a slightly different take on the situation, “Schools want to be put in the best position to win games, I understand that. But they are setting it up as a football (only) league. The superintendents got very involved in this. I think when they got heavily involved it became something else. I think it has to do with passing levies, I mean why would superintendents get so involved with it.”
“They are worrying about their district and the financial responsibility. They know a lot of things hinge on success. Football is at the beginning of the year, starts off the school year, and these levies are put up in November and there are a lot of financial problems on these districts. It is logic in reasoning when you think about it like this. It gets the edge if you have a great season, the community gets behind it, so they try to position themselves in the best position they can,” Hake explained.
“But now we have no league, we have no league,” Hake added. “It looks bad. It looks like its leadership.”
Another key point that both Spaite and Hake spoke of was the issue of open enrollment and how it is affecting all public schools. With schools in a financial crunch, they are fighting for those dollars as much as they are competing on the gridiron, hardcourt or diamond.
“Now all of a sudden open enrollment and the money that flows with open enrollment has a big impact,” Spaite remarked.
“Look at Crestview’s success, look at their numbers,” Hake exclaimed. “You can’t blame Paul Cusick for that! But look at the numbers; they have a lot of open enrollment kids in their school. I have open enrollment kids in my school. That doesn’t mean that I’m getting them (on football team). But when you’re succeeding, people want to come to you. But that cyclical, these are public schools, it’s cyclical. I think schools like South Range and Crestview are being punished to a degree. Now they are going to have find a league. It broke up our league. I feel bad for them.”
The most recent 3-tier formula for the league may have seemed to accelerate the demise of the league, but not all coaches felt it was a bad move for the league.
“I actually thought it might be a league saver if the powers that be had collectively agreed to how to bring in teams that would have made sense to balance the tiers and eliminate cross-over games,” one coach remarked.
Most athletic leagues are run by the superintendents, however, prior to the ICL – TCL merger the TCL was governed by its principals. In the ITCL the athletic directors basically are responsible for the grunt work of scheduling and running the sports teams without having any administrative duties or league’s decisions.
“We had a league that made sense,” Hake remarked. “The ICL and TCL, they put them together, that made more sense, but it’s nothing. People got involved for political reasons. Doesn’t it make sense that the principals and athletic directors would run and form leagues? Why are guys at the top, why are you worrying about that? Because it affects us financially. It all comes down to that.”
“I feel that if the league would’ve been run from an Athletic Directors perspective we would’ve been able to make compromise and do what was in the best interest of everyone. Most of the ITCL Athletic Directors didn’t come to our meetings with agendas or ulterior motives. We came to meetings to find reasonable solutions to all of the issues that came up, however, with no power to make decisions we were unable to rectify anything,” Martig added.
“No one wants to listen or take the advice of our collective group of football coaches. Had our advice been followed, or simply allow us to set up football and let the athletic directors figure-out the rest of the sports’ schedules, the league would more than likely persevered,” one coach added.
“Leadership has to emerge,” Hake concluded. “If it doesn’t, then there is going to be a lot of bitterness. People aren’t going to play people. You’ll see it; they’ll say ‘You left us out, don’t ever play them.’ I’m already hearing that, I’m hearing it with friends. Come on, this is high school sports.”
He would go on, “I think it’s a bad thing. It could have been avoided, it really could have been, and it wasn’t. And because of that, now the proper powers are going to have to fix it. And who is going to suffer? The kids and the coaches.”