Change is coming to the Inter-Tri County League and two area schools will be especially affected.
Boys sports at Columbiana and Southern Local will be moving to the upper tier for the 2013-14 school year, while girls sports stay put in the lower tier.
The shuffling is part of a change in league bylaws that was voted on last year by the superintendents. Under the new format, the upper and lower tiers will be based on boys and girls enrollments separately, rather than combined as has been the case since the league started. The other two schools that will see their sports split up are Jackson-Milton and Mineral Ridge, both of which will have their girls compete in the upper tier and boys in the lower tier.
"There are some schools with big disparities between their boys and girls enrollment," ITCL commissioner Paul Andraso said. "The superintendents decided that splitting teams up strictly by numbers would be the fairest way to go. Everyone also thought it made sense to split up the tiers the way OHSAA splits up divisions."
The change will not be fully felt until the spring. Prior to this year, ITCL teams scheduled baseball and softball league games together to save on transportation costs. That will not be possible this year for the affected schools. Southern Local athletic director Jess Krulik anticipates a jump in transportation costs.
"We could have days this spring where we are sending three different buses in three different directions," Krulik said. "Travel is going to be very expensive for us."
Columbiana athletic director Erin Heasley-who took the job earlier this summer-was not sure how the change would ultimately play out for her school.
"Right now our schedule is set for the spring and we are going to have to wait and see what happens with transportation," she said. "It could be an issue, but at the same time I can remember several occasions when I coached softball (at Columbiana) that both teams didn't ride together anyway because of field conditions. I can't predict how it will turn out. For now, the numbers are what they are and we're just going to go with it."
Krulik said that athletic directors in the ITCL have presented various proposals to try and ease the burden of scheduling for spring sports. One suggestion was creating a special schedule for spring sports in which schools tried to schedule as locally as possible regardless of tier. Another involved picking either girls or boys enrollment to make the tiers but not using both. Neither idea took hold with the superintendents.
"Unfortunately, we haven't been able to come up with anything yet," Krulik said. "The conference athletic directors are meeting this month and I'm sure the issue will come up again. Personally, I was not a fan of the change. Besides the cost, I think it makes scheduling very difficult for us."
Andraso said he understands athletic directors' concerns about transportation, but the superintendents didn't foresee it being a huge problem.
"Long term transportation costs were a concern for me when this whole thing was proposed last year," Andraso said. "But the superintendents are the ones paying the bills and they did not seem too concerned about it. I still believe that going strictly by numbers is the fairest way to do it. Anything else and there will be some schools that get favored more than others."
As far as football is concerned, Columbiana-which competed in the upper tier every year except the last- will be back in familiar territory while Southern Local will be getting its first taste of the bigger division.
"We welcome the change as a new challenge," Southern football coach Mike Skrinjar said. "I thought the lower tier had some great competition and I don't anticipate anything different in the upper tier. We know it's not going to be easy and that there is going to be some adversity but our players are looking forward to representing Southern in the upper tier."
"There are good and bad aspects to us moving back to the upper tier," Columbiana football coach Bob Spaite said. "On one hand, we are very familiar with the teams and coaches in the upper tier. The level of competition has also helped us get ready for the playoffs in years past. Even if we didn't win the league we felt we entered the playoffs very prepared. That part will be nice to have back.
"On the other hand, the schedule will be more of a grind for us. There won't be much margin for error."