With the recent defections of Avon, Midview and Lakewood from the West Shore Conference to the Southwestern Conference, the WSC is a league looking for members.
In fact, only four schools are scheduled to be in the WSC for the 2015-16 school year: Elyria Catholic, North Ridgeville, Bay and Rocky River.
But don’t write the league’s obituary just yet.
“The WSC has been and is still accepting applications,” North Ridgeville athletic director Nori Okuma said. “It is my belief that the WSC will not break up in two years.”
Vermilion High School had also intended to leave the West Shore to join the Northern Ohio League for the 2013-14 season, but those plans have gone by the wayside and the Sailors are in conference limbo.
They will be back in the WSC conditionally — without football due to existing contracts — but readmission as a full member is expected.
That means that right now, even with only four schools, the West Shore Conference has no plans to disband. It will continue to look for member schools and move forward as a four-team league in football, and a five-team league for all other sports.
Elyria Catholic football coach Mike Polevacik drew a parallel to describe how he sees the schools that moved on.
“It’s been like being in a group of guys all in relationships, but the other guys have all been looking for the next girl they want to be with,” he said. “They wanted to move on and have, while you’re sticking with the same girl.”
Even one of the schools that is staying, had a wandering eye. North Ridgeville also applied for admission into the SWC, but was denied.
“After Avon announced in December that they would be joining the SWC in 2015 the makeup of the WSC became such that we felt we needed to explore our options,” Okuma said.
One of the biggest reasons the Rangers were hoping to make the switch was travel.
“The geographic spread of the SWC was another reason we were interested,” Okuma said. “It would have reduced our average travel time throughout the league.”
Still, the smaller conference could be an advantage for the Polevacik and his EC football team. As the smallest school in the WSC, the Panthers have rarely had the opportunity to square off with a team that comes from a school with similar enrollment. The new WSC will most likely give them that chance.
“If we do have a small conference it will give us a lot of flexibility, schedule-wise,” Polevacik said. “We’ll be able to schedule teams we think we can match up and compete with, and that will be a bit of a relief. Because we’ve played a brutal schedule against bigger schools for a long time. It would be nice to schedule schools more our size.”
Jason Smith, who coached the Elyria Catholic boys basketball team last season, thinks the WSC remains an attractive option for schools to consider.
“It’s definitely going to be interesting,” Smith said. “I think the conference has been doing some recruiting to try to get some schools in the conference because it’s a difficult situation. For the bigger schools it would be challenging to just have one big conference that covers western Cuyahoga County and Lorain County.”
Smith does not think the WSC will disband. His alma mater, Elyria Catholic, was part of a four-team league in the 1980s as part of the Erie Coast Conference — a conference that included Elyria Catholic, Lorain Catholic, Southview and Elyria West.
He thinks a four-school conference could work again.
“There are some benefits to playing in a small conference, but it all really would depend on how you fill out your non-conference schedule,” Smith said. “The whole point of playing in a conference is developing a good core of rivalries that have meaning, and with just three other teams in the league that would be pretty difficult.”
Smith does see potential drawbacks, however.
“I also think, in basketball, when it comes to seeding for the playoffs, playing in a four-team league will be a disadvantage because they would probably look at the conference as being weaker,” he said. “That would effect the seeding, regardless of your record.”
Polevacik thinks the WSC, with its current makeup, lacks natural rivalries.
“If we’re in a league with North Ridgeville, Rocky River and Bay it will be regionally odd — us and North Ridgeville out here and the other two in Cuyahoga County,” he said. “As far as the schools, we’re all very different.
“North Ridgeville is huge and Rocky River and Bay are medium-sized. We’re all different and there aren’t those natural rivalries there.”
Okuma thinks things will work out for the league and North Ridgeville in the future.
“We are disappointed that North Ridgeville was not selected to enter the SWC, but that doesn’t change our purpose,” Okuma said. “At the end of the day, our job is to make every effort to put our students in the best possible position to be successful. We’re confident that we can recreate a WSC that is stable, competitive and beneficial for the community and the students.”
Sailors ready to hit the road
Vermilion High School is in a different situation than any other team in Lorain County, if not the state. When things fell through with the WSC, the Sailors suddenly became independent.
Athletic director Phil Brickner got to work.
“I spent the first three and a half weeks, last summer, making calls and sending out e-mails, trying to get us a football schedule,” he said. “When you have three games set, then no games at all for Week Four through Week 10, you go to the OHSAA website and start contacting schools.”
The schedule the Sailors ended up with for the 2013 season will require them to wear out some busses. They have four home games and six on the road, including trips to Youngstown Christian, Spencerville, Toledo Start and Lucas.
Vermilion will play on the road in its final four games of the season.
“I tried to schedule teams comparable in size so, hopefully, things will be competitive,” Brickner said. “I was able to get two year home-and-home agreements, so next year we will have six home games and four on the road.
“We had to do some dealing, but some of the teams were in similar situations where they had to fill out a hole in their schedule ... we were able to work things out.”
After the 2014-15 season, Vermilion will again become a full-fledged member of the WSC.
“We’re independent in football for the next two years, but in the conference for all other sports,” Brickner said. “After the two years we will be back in the West Shore Conference in all sports. It’s been interesting to see how things have worked out...that’s for sure.”