By JAMIE BAKER
The final chapter in the 28-year history of the Midland Athletic League is about to be written.
Five MAL schools announced Friday that they would be forming a new conference beginning in the 2014 school year.
The MAL’s New Riegel, Old Fort, Tiffin Calvert, Fremont St. Joseph and Lakota have joined forces with Sandusky St. Mary’s to create the Sandusky River League. New Riegel and Old Fort participate in all MAL sports with the exception of football and wrestling.
It’s essentially the end of what will be left of the 12-team MAL after the 2013-14 school year. Carey, Mohawk and Seneca East will leave the league after next year to join Riverdale, and others, in the Northern 10 Conference while Hopewell-Loudon and North Baltimore will become members of the Blanchard Valley Conference.
Starting out, the new conference will have just four football schools in Lakota, Calvert, St. Joseph and St. Mary’s. The ultimate goal of the schools forming the SRL is to have eight football schools and two to three non-football schools.
A release issued by the conference instructs schools with an interest in joining the SRL to contact Lakota superintendent Dave Danhoff.
New Riegel’s athletic programs have been near the top in nearly all of the sports the school offers during its tenure in the MAL. The school is excited about being able to keep its ties with many of the current MAL schools while forging some nw relationships with other prospective SRL members in the future.
“We’re excited about the opportunity. This is going to be a great conference that will be a big benefit to our students,” said New Riegl suyperintendent Elaine Nye.
If the SRL does eventually get to 10 schools, some of which could be in and around the Sandusky-Fremont area, Nye doesn’t think travel for New Riegel, the southernmost school in new league, will be much of a concern.
“We already talked with the athletic director and we don’t really think any added travel will make that big of an impact,” Nye said. “I think for a lot of our non-league contests we’ll probably be able to cut down on some travel and play some schools closer to home.”
The formation of the SRL appears to put the two MAL schools who have yet to find a new league, Fostoria St. Wendelin and Bettsville, in a bit of a pickle.
Bettsville, the smallest public school district in the state aside from the Lake Erie island districts of Kelleys Island and Put-In-Bay, has just 170 students in the entire school from kindergarten to 12th grade, according to the latest enrollment figures provided by Ohio Department of Education.
The Bobcats have struggled in recent years to even field teams in some sports. Bettsville hasn’t been able to field a girls basketball for the past couple of years and has two girls on the boys basketball team this season to comply with OHSAA rules regarding offering both at least one boys and girls sport in each sport season.
This year’s boys basketball team is an example of Bettsville’s recent athletic struggles. The Bobcats are currently 0-17 and were beaten 97-6 by Lakota early in the year and most-recently 98-9 by Carey in an MAL game on Jan. 25.
The team has just 13 players in the program and practices just a couple of times a week due to the athletes’ work schedules.
St. Wendelin, meanwhile, is able to field teams in every MAL sport. But the Mohawks haven’t played an MAL schedule in football since 2009 when the league allowed them to begin playing an independent football schedule, because of declining numbers in the school’s football program.
With the formation of SRL, it appears, St. Wendelin may be forced to play as an independent when the MAL breaks up at the end of the 2013-14 school year.
St. Wendelin, though, has went the independent route in the past.
The Mohawks dropped out of the Sandusky Bay Conference after the 1972 school year and were independent until the winter of 1982-83 when the school joined the Lakeshore Conference.
After two years in the LC, St. Wendelin, Bettsville, New Riegel, Old Fort, Seneca East, North Baltimore and Hopewell-Loudon formed the Midland Athletic League. St. Joseph and Tiffin Calvert were added shortly after the MAL’s inception and the conference began play in the winter of the 1985-86 school year.
A call seeking comment was made to St. Wendelin principal Mike Amlin who was unavailable on Friday.
By JAMIE BAKER