April 19, 2014

Elyria
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Vermilion trying to decide if it should join a conference or stay independent

VERMILION — A tough decision has been made harder, Vermilion Schools superintendent Phil Pempin said Wednesday night at a community meeting to discuss the district’s future athletic conference affiliation.

The meeting in the Vermilion High School auditorium was held to solicit input from the public about whether the district’s interscholastic athletic teams should rejoin the West Shore Conference, of which Vermilion has been a member since the conference’s founding in the 2003-04 school year, or remain independent.

“The board wants to hear opinions about the future — where we are and where we need to go,” Pempin said.

Attendance was low, but those in the auditorium were not shy about expressing how they felt. A straw poll was taken among those who were neither Vermilion coaches nor school board members. Eight voted to rejoin the WSC, seven to be independent and two voted to see if Vermilion could join the Northern Ohio League.

Vermilion accepted an offer to become a member of the NOL a year ago. When it was learned the Patriot Athletic Conference was looking to expand, Vermilion asked to join that conference. The PAC principals initially accepted Vermilion, Cloverleaf, Cuyahoga Heights and Independence as new members, but later decided to postpone expansion.

That left Vermilion without a conference. The district has an independent football schedule for the 2013 and 2014 seasons. Should the WSC vote to reinstate Vermilion, the football schedules would remain and the Sailors would not resume playing football in the WSC until 2015.

The Sailors have home-and-home games with Clearview, Fairview, Firelands, Cleveland Central Catholic, Ontario, Youngstown Christian, Norwalk, Spencerville and Lucas.

“It’s a tough situation,” Pempin said. “We don’t have a lot of great options.”

The WSC has asked for a seven-year commitment. The district said it was reluctant to commit to that many years — hoping instead for a two- or three-year commitment — but added the conference has a take-it-or-leave-it stance. A vote by the WSC could come this month.

Pempin indicated that Vermilion, for various reasons, might not look attractive to other conferences. He said the district’s desire to leave the WSC stems primarily from falling enrollment.

The high school has 616 students in grades 10-12 this year. Only Bay (606) and Elyria Catholic (350), a private parochial school, have fewer. Class sizes at Vermilion are expected to drop over the next 12 years.

A power-point slide show, with narration by Vermilion athletic director Phil Brickner, indicated how Vermilion stacks up to schools in the WSC, PAC, NOL and Sandusky Bay Conference. The latter is considered a possibility should two schools that have hinted they might leave actually do so.

The slide show presented the pros and cons of being independent. On the pro side, Vermilion would have flexibility in scheduling opponents, could pick rivals that match up with the school in size and competition level, and could be in a situation in which it would be free to join an existing conference or be part of a new one.

Arguments against being independent would be difficulty in scheduling, longer travel, lack of visibility (particularly from college scouts) and the limited availability of opponents in certain sports.

The average travel distances to WSC schools is 54 miles. The average travel distance to Vermilion’s football opponents in 2013 is 127 miles. In 2014 it will be 93 miles.

Several in attendance pointed to the stability being in a conference would provide, and how the school could compete if it had quality coaching and strong youth programs. Others said the prospect of enrollments at some WSC schools growing while Vermilion’s enrollment remained stagnant or fell made the idea of remaining independent more attractive.

Pempin said the board should vote on the issue by the end of the month.

Contact Steve Byrne at 329-7135 or stephenbyrne@att.net.