CANFIELD - Ohio (WKBN) - One week after being told by the All-American Conference that there was no room for their program, the South Range Raiders have found a future league home in the newly formed Eastern Buckeye Conference. The South Range Raiders will join the league starting in the fall of 2018.
Joe Knoll, superintendent of the Marlington schools and acting spokesperson for the Eastern Buckeye explained that there were three main factors that helped sway the other seven members to invite South Range to join the league. "Our group went out and visited three school districts, and after we all got back together again, some of the things that really set South Range apart from the other two was number one their commitment to academics. Our league is a lot more than just athletics, were all big believers in the academic piece of that as well."
Knoll added, "We loved their facilities that they currently have and their plans for a new football facility in the field and bleachers down the road. And the third thing was the tradition, at South Range their fan base and really the success they have had in their athletic programs. I think those were the things that really caught the attention of our group."
"Its nice to have a home," South Range Superintendent Dennis Dunham remarked. "We needed a place to be part of a league. The last thing we wanted to do was become an independent school with our programs. It's definitely a competitive league for us. The schools are mainly division three and four in football, division two in all other sports. But we're happy to be part of it."
Although South Range will be the smallest school in the league in terms of enrollment, Knoll didn't think that played any factor in the decision to bring the Raiders into the fold, "I think at the end of the day enrollment plays a part in it, but really I think it comes down to how competitive you are in the different sports. I know that was a big thing for our league, how competitive they have been and their body of work in all of their programs both boys and girls."
Although Dunham stressed how much they didn't want to become an independent school, they will need to be independent for one year as they bridge the gap between the last year of the ITCL and the beginning of the new Eastern Buckeye Conference in 2018. The Northeastern Buckeye Conference will disband at the end of the 2017 season, while the ITCL ends after next season.
"Obviously this coming year we're still in the ITCL, and then we're going to have to look at an independent schedule for 2017-18. There was some talk which was presumptuous to say, that Lousiville was going to bow out in 2017-18. If they did then we could slide into their schedule. But for right now we directed our AD into looking to fill those gaps we might have in 2017-18," Dunham explained.
The addition of South Range also sets up the possibility of new rivalries with local schools in Salem and West Branch while not forcing any members into extensively long travel distances. The longest drive for the Raiders will be to Canton of 45 minutes to an hour.
The addition of South Range leaves Crestview without a league following the 2016-2017 academic year, and also excludes St. Thomas Aquinas who likewise had hoped to join the league. Knoll admitted that on a whole the league felt a eight team league was much better to work with.
"In our discussions we looked at taking one, two, or all three, and I think at this time the majority of our members felt that a eight team league is where we wanted to be. It's what we have had for all these years, and I think our seven league members felt more comfortable with eight at this point, having a nice even number at scheduling time. I think that was the driving factor."
"I can't speak for the EBC. We would have loved to have our neighbor in Crestview go with us, but I think at one point they may have been looking at a ten team league, but I think they ultimately decided to stick with a eight team league. I believe they felt we were the best fit," Dunham added.