Northeastern Buckeye Conference schools — Alliance, Canton South, Carrollton, Marlington, Minerva, Salem and West Branch — plan to form a new league in two years without Louisville.
The Northeastern Buckeye Conference is coming to an end, but Louisville is the only team with a shaky league future.
The league’s seven other schools plan to form a new league in two years — fulfilling the NBC’s bylaws — and it will not include Louisville, according to a news release on Thursday. The other seven schools are Alliance, Canton South, Carrollton, Marlington, Minerva, Salem and West Branch.
Louisville’s athletic success, particularly in football, was the driving force behind the decision, which has been rumored for weeks.
“It is an issue over consideration of competitive balance and competitive equity at all levels in grades seven through 12,” said Joe Knoll, Marlington’s superintendent and NBC spokesman, in a statement.
Knoll said the seven schools will select a new league name and try to attract additional members. The schools already have been in expansion discussions with three schools from the Mahoning Valley: Canfield South Range, Columbiana Crestview and Lisbon Beaver Local.
“It’s sad that the NBC is falling apart,” said Louisville Superintendent Michele Shaffer, who officially was notified of the decision Thursday. “I would have loved for it to stay together. It’s a good fit for our kids and we love the hometown rivalries we have within the county.”
Football typically drives league decisions and Louisville has won three straight conference championships in that sport. The Leopards have won their last 21 NBC football games and six of the seven wins this season featured a running clock, meaning Louisville led by at least 30 points. Since leaving the Federal League for the NBC in 1990, the Leopards have won 13 league titles, including 10 outright. West Branch (seven titles) is the only other team with more than four.
When asked if she thought the Leopards were being punished for their athletic success, Shaffer said, “Yes, a little bit. Our (enrollment) numbers are close to some of the other schools in the NBC and our coaches have tried to build successful programs from the elementary level up.”
According to the Ohio High School Athletic Association’s enrollment figures, the Leopards had 351 boys in grades 9-11 as of October 2014. Alliance is the second-biggest school in the NBC with 311, followed Marlington (301), Carrollton (281), Salem (244), Canton South (237), West Branch (228) and Minerva (227).
Louisville basketball coach Tom Siegfried, whose team finished second to Alliance in the NBC this season after going 14-0 last year, said he was disappointed with the decision.
“I think our kids, quite honestly, just don’t understand it,” he said of the NBC decision. “There’s been so many great rivalries formed through the years, lots of backyard-type battles between schools that are 10 to 15 miles apart. That, to me, is the most disappointing thing because playing those close communities are what bring kids into sports.
“And from a personal standpoint, I have a daughter in middle school, and I want to have some of those 20- to-30-minute drives after work to see my kids play. By doing this, we’re going to be traveling farther distances to play.”
One option would be for the Leopards to rejoin the Federal League, where they were members from 1968 to 1990. Lake, which has 447 boys, is the league’s smallest school. The Blue Streaks joined the Federal League in 1987 and they’ve been the smallest school since 2003, when Alliance left.
In a December interview, former Blue Streaks athletic director Dan Harold said he would welcome Louisville’s joining the Federal League.
“We play Louisville in just about every sport already,” said Harold, who recently was elevated to high school principal. “It’s always a great game for us, in any sport that we play them. It’s great for both communities.”
Although the enrollment gap between Lake and Louisville is manageable, the Leopards would be significantly smaller than most of the Federal League schools. McKinley, which just merged with Timken, has 1,056 boys, followed by Jackson (749), GlenOak (702), Hoover (584), Perry (568) and Green (512).
“That’s an option on the table,” Shaffer said of the Federal League. “We’re going to study every option and see what’s right for our kids.”
Although Siegfried regularly schedules Federal League schools, including four this season, he said Louisville’s enrollment is projected to drop over the next few seasons, which would make joining the Federal League even more challenging.
“I want to be in a league where we can compete night in and night out,” he said. “Everything goes in cycles and the other NBC schools have some great programs, like West Branch girls basketball and Canton South baseball and Alliance baseball. Everyone has their own niche. I’m disappointed that we’re not going to get to play those teams any more in league games.”
Louisville’s other league options include the Portage Trail Conference, which primarily is based in Summit County and Portage County, the Suburban League (mostly Summit, Cuyahoga, Portage), the All-American Conference (mostly Mahoning and Trumbull) and the East Central Ohio League (Tuscarawas, Coshocton, Muskingum, Guernsey and Washington).
“Hopefully we can find a league that will give us an opportunity to compete,” Siegfried said. “Obviously, there’s not a lot of choices out there right now.”
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