Lake Center Christian has finally joined the club.

Lake Center Christian has finally joined the club.

After more than a decade of competing as an independent in high school sports, the Tigers are officially a member of the Portage Trail Conference. The start of the new school year marked LCCS' debut in the PTC County Division, a move new athletic director Shane Byler said is long overdue.

"It's been a desire of Lake Center Christian to be a part of a league or conference for a long time," Byler said. "Our previous athletic directors, Brad Beun and Ted Lawver, did a lot of the leg work in that process and in getting our name out there."

It was Lawver who made the official proposal two years ago to join the PTC for the 2015-16 school year and the league accepted. Since then, the PTC has underdone a major makeover. Kent Roosevelt left the league on the heels of Windham and East Canton also leaving, forcing league officials to re-arrange the County and Metro divisions.

LCCS steps into the County (small school) side of the league with Mogadore, Waterloo, Crestwood, Garrettsville, Southeast and Rootstown. Joining a league after years of competing as an independent is a welcome change at LCCS, Byler said, especially for sports that play more games than others.

"In the kids' case, being in a league breaks up a season. In basketball, you play 22 games and it's a long season, especially if you don't have league games," Byler said. "It creates a lot more excitement throughout the season and eliminates that midseason drag when our kids can know they're competing for a league title."

Being a part of a league not only creates the possibility for rivalries, it also addresses logistical issues an independent school faces in terms of scheduling and travel. In the past, LCCS often filled its schedule with a mix of local teams and fellow private schools from distant locations such as Elyria and Youngstown. Those long drives were taxing and meant some late nights for students and coaches.

Now, Byler noted, most of the Tigers' games will be within half an hour of campus.

Boys soccer coach Derek Taylor, in his fifth season overall at the school and fourth as a head coach, is one of the first LCCS coaches to get a taste of life in the PTC and likes what he has seen so far.

"I would say we’re very excited for opportunity to join the PTC," Taylor said, adding that a connection to the Tri-County League helped LCCS in the past. "I think in the past ... with a lot of open dates, motivating your players to play for a little bit more is difficult. This move gives us an option where most every game we play is to win a league championship and compete at a higher level."

Last season, the boys soccer team finished 14-3, losing to two top-10 teams in the state and in the tournament to a South Range team that reached the state final four. A similar result this year would put them in the race for a PTC title, the first league crown in program history. With connections to old Tri-County League foes and PTC games, scheduling became much easier, as Taylor had just one open date to fill.

"Having the ability to motivate my students is really exciting and school-wide players are really excited," Taylor said. "This continues to push our programs further to where we want to be."

LOOKING TO THE FUTURE

One lingering question hovering over LCCS' entry into the PTC is football. The school does not currently have a football program at the high school or junior high level and with football among the most expensive sports to launch and maintain - plus the number of athletes required to field a competitive team - adding the sport would be a large challenge.

"It's something we are always exploring and looking at as a school in terms of feasibility," Byler said, adding that there were no conditions about adding football attached to LCCS being accepted into the league.

Having a non-football school in the County Division left the other six schools in the division with two extra open dates to fill for the 2015 football season, dates that proved difficult to fill for many of those schools. Whether or not LCCS ultimately adds football, Byler is adamant that overall, there isn't much the school needs to do in order to make a smooth transition into its new league.

With a modern, well-maintained gym for basketball and volleyball and solid on-campus facilities for soccer, baseball and softball, LCCS has much of the infrastructure it needs. The track and field program, which can train on campus but doesn't have the facilities to host meets, is one area in which the school is considering upgrades.

"Something we will also be exploring is a track and field facility on campus, but for us, not many other things are going to change," Byler said.

Looking to the future also necessitates a quick glance to the past, specifically to understand how far LCCS' athletic programs have come in a short amount of time. The high school opened in 2003 and the teams that competed during the 2003-04 school year did so at the freshman and junior varsity levels. The first LCCS varsity teams competed the following year and during the decade that followed, both the baseball and girls soccer teams reached the final eight of the state tournament in their respective divisions. Additionally, the track program has sent multiple athletes to the state championships in the past five seasons.

Joining a league is the fulfillment of several years of work, three athletic directors and many other school officials and while the move comes with no guarantees, LCCS is thankful to finally be a member of the club.

Reach Andy at 330-580-8936 or andy.harris@thesuburbanite.com.
On Twitter: @aharrisBURB