BY YANEEK SMITH, BEACON CONTRIBUTOR
After 35 years in the Sandusky Bay Conference, Oak Harbor has decided to make a change.
Starting in the 2023-2024 school year, the Rockets will begin play in the Northern Buckeye Conference. The NBC is located just to the west of the SBC, and provides stability with eight teams in the conference. It also includes a number of teams from the old Suburban Lakes League, which Oak Harbor was a member of for decades.
“We have always respected and valued the friendships and competition Oak Harbor has enjoyed over the years as a member of the Sandusky Bay Conference,” said Oak Harbor athletic director Dan Hoover. “I look forward to continuing to compete with SBC schools as non-league opponents as we journey into a new chapter of Oak Harbor athletics as a member of the Northern Buckeye Conference.
“We were not actively looking to get out of the SBC,” Hoover said. “The NBC approached us back in October or November. It came back around here not long ago, and it’s been discussed again.”
Part of Oak Harbor’s decision to leave the SBC had to do with its concern about the long-term health of the SBC conference, specifically the Bay Division. The division currently includes Oak Harbor, Port Clinton, Edison, Huron and Willard, and the latter could be leaving in the near future. Vermilion is a member of the division for just football, and Margaretta competes in the division for all sports other than football.
“Willard has looked to join the Northern 10 Conference,” said Hoover. “If Willard left, that would leave the division with just five schools. It’s pretty hard to fill out a schedule of 22 games in basketball and 27 games in baseball with just four other schools in the division.”
The move was supported by the vast majority of Oak Harbor coaches.
“Following months of discussion, a recent vote of our head coaches revealing more than 70% in favor of moving to the NBC was a crucial factor in making this recommendation to the board,” said B-C-S superintendent Guy Parmigian. “The level of stability and competition of the NBC really made it highly attractive for our students and community.”
The opening was created when Woodmore left the NBC for the SBC, where it will presumably join the three-division conference in the River Division, the smallest division. The Wildcats decided to leave just a few weeks ago.
The River Division includes Margaretta (for just football), Danbury, Gibsonburg, Hopewell-Loudon, Lakota, New Riegel, Old Fort, St. Joseph Central Catholic, St. Mary Central Catholic and Tiffin Calvert. Danbury and SMCC play 8-man football and New Riegel and Old Fort do not field football teams. Woodmore would be the second-largest school in the division behind Lakota.
Proximity to the other schools is close, as well. The Wildcats will not have to travel much farther than they currently do in the NBC. Tiffin is 30 miles from Elmore, Fremont is 14 miles away and Sandusky is 36 miles to the east of Elmore.
Before the recent move, Woodmore had reached out to the SBC in previous years. There was also talk of expansion in the NBC, and the Wildcats had considered possibly joining the Toledo Area Athletic Conference, but nothing materialized. Now, Woodmore will play out its remaining two years in the NBC before joining the SBC.
According to the Ohio High School Athletic Association’s enrollment figures, Woodmore is the smallest school in the NBC by a wide margin with 138 boys and 112 girls in grades 10-12. Elmwood had been the second smallest with 162 boys and 117 girls.
The Wildcats have, for the most part, struggled to compete in the NBC. The football team has failed to gain much traction, going 22-78 overall and 12-58 in the conference over 10 years. The boys basketball team hasn’t won a league title in 16 years. The school has seen a number of top athletes leave in recent years for bigger schools like Central Catholic and Genoa. Woodmore has, however, remained competitive in other sports like girls basketball, boys soccer, boys golf and girls cross country.
In February, Elmwood, which had been a member of the NBC since it came into existence in 2011, decided to leave for the Blanchard Valley Conference. The BVC has eight schools located in Hancock County and exists primarily in the Findlay area. The Royals will be one of the biggest schools in their new conference.
The opening was filled by Maumee, which left the Northern Lakes League in March to join the NBC. The Panthers, who were the second-smallest school in the NLL and have struggled greatly for the last decade to field competitive teams, will be the biggest school in the NBC.
Oak Harbor has familiarity with the NBC because it was part of the old Suburban Lakes League from 1972-86. At that time, the league included four schools that will be in the NBC when Oak Harbor joins — Eastwood, Genoa, Lake and Otsego. Lake joined the SLL in 1996 and the other three schools were in the league when it was founded in 1972.