HARTVILLE  When it was announced late last month that the eight member schools of the Portage Trail Conference Metro Division would vote on a plan to disband the conference’s large-school division from the seven-team PTC County Division, questions arose for those on both sides of the issue.

Streetsboro superintendent Michael Daulbaugh was quoted as saying that Metro superintendents have been meeting “pretty regularly to ... set a collective vision for our athletic programming across the districts,” while Woodridge superintendent Walter Davis explained that he and his fellow Metro Division superintendents “have a vision of our eight schools moving forward with education-based athletics.”

While officials at other PTC Metro schools have been reticent to comment on the subject, PTC County athletic directors have spoken out about the plan and how it will impact their schools.

Lake Center Christian athletic director Shane Byler, whose school joined the PTC in 2015, said that he doesn’t like seeing the potential split and that there will be some direct, tangible effects despite the fact that in a sense, the PTC County and Metro have existed as largely separate entities often connected in name only.

“Discussions have been very minimal with any Metro schools … we haven't talked much other than meeting last month with the County schools,” Byler said. “We’re pretty much disappointed that they’re breaking off. It’s disappointing not to see everyone under the same umbrella. It made games with (Metro) teams more special and unique because even though they weren’t league games, they were still a PTC school.”

Byler noted the PTC has remained relatively stable since its creation in 2005 as a successor to the old Portage County League. The PCL existed for most of the 20th century and by its end, included eight Portage County Schools, along with Mogadore - just over the county line in Summit County - and Woodridge. Those schools, along with Crestwood, Field, Garrettsville Garfield, Rootstown, Southeast, Streetsboro, Waterloo and Windham, welcomed Ravenna, Norton, Springfield, East Canton, Kent Roosevelt and Coventry to form a 16-team, two-division PTC.

The County existed as a small-school division and some schools have remained in it since its creation: Mogadore, Garfield and Rootstown. Others, including Southeast, Streetsboro, Crestwood and Woodridge have gone back and forth between the two divisions. In 2011, Streetsboro moved to the Metro and Southeast went to the County and Windham left the league due to declining enrollment and an inability to compete in many sports, followed by East Canton leaving the PTC for the Inter-Valley Conference in 2013.

At that point, the PTC heard presentations from Barberton, St. Thomas Aquinas, Northwest and LCC, ultimately staying with 14 teams for the time being as Streetsboro once again changed divisions to balance out the league.

Cloverleaf came to the PTC in 2015 from the Suburban League and LCC came on board at the same time, restoring the 16-team field. Streetsboro, perhaps experiencing a bit of whiplash, was shuffled off to the Metro Division along with Woodridge and Cloverleaf. Another shake-up came in 2016, when Waterloo, a longtime PCL and PTC member, mirrored Windham’s move of five years prior, left the league in search of a small school-oriented league where it could compete and settled in the geographically curious spot of the Mahoning Valley Conference.

Ironically, it was a Youngstown-area school that filled the void the Vikings left as Valley Christian came to the PTC County. Since then, the PTC County has had issues in its biggest sport, football, stemming from the fact that the PTC County has only six schools that offer the sport and thus, five league games each season. That leaves County teams with five non-league openings on their schedule and filling those voids can leave them either with foes from several hours away or playing against much larger schools.

LCC, the lone PTC school not to offer football, isn’t planning on adding the sport any time soon, Byler said, adding that the Tigers will be starting other new sports soon.

“We are adding boys and girls bowling at high school level for next year to compete in PTC and in the near future certain ones we discuss and pursue might be tennis and swimming, but wrestling and football out of the question right now,” Byler said. “I can't speak for entire division, but think it would make sense to add at least two more football schools would give us eight schools that offer football.”

The problem in that respect is that the schools the PTC has heard from in recent years about possibly joining its ranks have all found new league homes. Barberton joined the Suburban League, Northwest entered the Principals Athletic Conference and St. Thomas Aquinas joined the North Coast League. Louisville is one area school in need of a league home, but the Leopards would be a much better fit among the PTC Metro teams based on its size.

There simply aren’t many viable options out there for the PTC County to consider at this point.

IMPACT STUDY

Looking at the effects of Metro schools leaving to form a new league - as Byler noted, there is no announced timeline for that to happen yet - shows some direct areas of impact, but not a lot.

For one, any games played between teams from the two divisions have been non-league contests, although in sports such as golf, wrestling and tennis, County and Metro schools did compete as a single entity. Some schools would still play one another in football and especially in sports such as basketball and baseball. LCC commonly schedules Springfield and Coventry in boys and girls basketball and baseball and according to Byler, would still like to do so even if those schools are no longer under the PTC umbrella.

“We have good relations with all of the County schools and we think we’re going to be just fine from Lake Center's standpoint specifically,” Byler said. “I think we'll definitely continue to play them (Metro schools) in different sports as long as they're willing to do that. We're not just going to proceed as if nothing happened … we have a lot of things to discuss to make sure things shored up, but right now no discussions have occurred to when Metro schools will leave.”

He noted that, with the Metro superintendents being the ones meeting and plotting the future for their schools from an athletic standpoint, his fellow athletic directors at Metro schools have had little say in the process.

The PTC has also had Metro versus County all-star games and preseason previews between the two divisions in various sports. Those events would be eliminated with the dissolution of the league as a whole.

The process could be toughest on original PCL schools such as Mogadore, Crestwood, Garfield, Woodridge, Southeast, Rootstown, Field and Streetsboro, who have been in the same league as one another for decades and would no longer be connected should Field, Streetsboro and Woodridge move on. Mogadore, which had some memorable battles with Woodridge for PTC County football supremacy before the Bulldogs moved to the Metro, is one such example. At present, there are still many questions to be answered on both sides of the debate and plenty of uncertainty for all involved.

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