The South Central Ohio League will be down to three schools — all in Clinton County — thanks to the defection of five current members.
Wilmington, Clinton-Massie and East Clinton have been left holding the bag, so to speak, with the news that Chillicothe, Hillsboro, McClain, Miami Trace and Washington Senior will be leaving the league at the end of the 2016-17 school year.
“We were completely blindsided by this information,” Clinton-Massie athletic director Cindy Running said.
While the official press release regarding the defection wasn’t made public until Friday, East Clinton Superintendent Eric Magee was told by Greenfield Exempted Village Schools Superintendent Joe Wills on Wednesday that the defection was going to happen.
“I was contacted (Tuesday) by two of the superintendents and asked if they could meet with me,” said Magee. “I went into the meeting expecting them to try to persuade me to vote ‘yes’ to bring in Jackson.”
Magee said he met with Wills alone on Wednesday.
“We sat down and actually one of the superintendents was unable to meet, but he (Joe) told me they were going to secede (from the league).”
Prior to Wills’ declaration, Magee said he knew nothing of the league breakup, a notion confirmed by both Running and Wilmington City Schools Superintendent Ron Sexton.
“I understand their perspective and I understand their thought process,” Magee said. “For that (breakup) to happen without any conversation does make you think a little bit.”
South Central Ohio League commissioner Jim Winner told the (Hillsboro) Times Gazette “as far as the league athletic directors and high school principals go (SCOL Board of Control), nothing like this has ever been discussed.”
Winner went on to say he could not speak for the superintendents (of the SCOL schools) because he has no dealings with them. He added, “But you never know. The world’s a funny place.”
According to the press release from the five defecting schools, “These districts have indicated a desire to merge with an existing league or inviting other schools to join them in forming an eight-team league commencing with the start of the 2017-2018 school year.”
The press release continued: “The SCOL has recently been approached by Jackson City Schools about joining the league, however the size and location of Jackson presents a concern for some Clinton County districts that do not favor the addition. Chillicothe, Greenfield-McClain, Hillsboro, Miami Trace, Washington Court House, as well as Jackson all participate in the Southeast District and range in enrollment from just under 3,000 (Chillicothe) to just over 2,000 (Greenfield). It is believed that this merger will offer stability for the student-athletes of these districts for years to come. Officials from these six districts will present a resolution to their local boards of education in March to create an alliance to charter a new league or attach to an existing one.”
The issue is expected to go before the SCOL Board of Control (member schools high school principals) at a meeting on March 7.
While the end of the league is troubling, the Clinton County schools are extremely upset with the way the other five schools decided to make their exit — out the back door.
“It wasn’t just the new league,” Sexton said. “It’s that nobody came knocking on the door saying ‘Hey, we want to add Jackson or else we’re leaving.’”
Both Sexton and Running said the five schools leaving the league never made their intentions known to Wilmington or Clinton-Massie,
“Nobody said, ‘Troy (Diels, the WHS athletic director), this is what we’re doing, this is what we’re discussing.’ Why not be up front and say ‘this is our situation?’”
Sexton said he is pained by the results of what he said were the secret, behind-closed-doors meeting that resulted in the breakup of the SCOL, as many people before this have worked so hard to get back together.
“It’s basically the Highland County schools and the Fayette County schools have decided it’s better to keep Chillicothe and Jackson and that shocks me,” said Sexton. “I think it’s we (five schools) want to expand to the southeast and we don’t want Wilmington and Clinton-Massie (and East Clinton) involved. They (the five schools) were outwardly plotting to get rid of people.
“These are not the kinds of schools I think we want to deal with. In the foreseeable future, if they don’t want us in their league, we don’t want to play them in anything.”
A press release was issued by the collective superintendents, high school principals and athletic directors from East Clinton, Clinton-Massie and Wilmington.
The release states superintendents from each of the eight SCOL schools were asked to voice their standing with the league and with the idea of expansion during a Jan. 7 meeting. All eight schools indicated they were for expansion and in favor of keeping the SCOL together.
It was during that meeting that the idea of adding just Jackson to the league roster was not a positive move for competitive balance. At a subsequent meeting, Jackson pitched its case for joining the league. Because there was another school interested in the possibility of joining the SCOL, an extension was made to March 2 for schools to apply to the league, with a vote to be taken at the March 7 meeting of the league’s board of control.
But Chillicothe, Hillsboro, McClain, Miami Trace and Washington Senior apparently didn’t want to wait for the meeting next month.
“They just needed to wait for another school (in addition to Jackson),” said Sexton, “and this could have all been avoided. They needed to be patient but they were quick to find a way to get rid of Wilmington and Clinton-Massie.”
Reach Mark Huber at 937-556-5765, or on Twitter @wnjsports.