Just My Opinion – Let’s Look Before We Leap
It is no big secret that the administration of Swanton Local Schools has been actively looking to leave the Northwest Ohio Athletic League (NWOAL) for the past couple of years, all in the interest of placing its athletes and athletic teams in a league where they will be more competitive on the field of play. If you look at the numbers in terms of NWOAL Championships won over the past 20 years among all the schools, the Swanton Administration presents a strong argument. Who doesn’t like to win?
Bulldog teams, collectively, have not been able to stitch many new numbers onto the league championship banners that hang in the McQuade Gymnasium in the current millennium. The NWOAL has been dominated by Archbold, Bryan and Wauseon during those years. That makes sense for the latter two given the significantly larger student population they enjoy over the other six members. So, how do we explain the consistent success of the Blue Streaks?
Delta and Evergreen have not fared much better than Swanton and were recently approached with the idea of forming a new league with Swanton along with Northwood, Ottawa Hills and former NWOAL member Montpelier. Initially, the concept gained a lot of traction but interest quickly faded as opposition from the general public, which included a lot of alumni from the three Fulton County schools, grew.
Now the Toledo Area Athletic Conference (TAAC) has come calling with an invitation to become a member and, on its face value, the offer looks very attractive. The Swanton Bulldogs would be very competitive in the TAAC. As the biggest school in the conference, they would be formidable in all the sports. What could be the downside?
With all due respect to the TAAC, let’s take a look. The TAAC is comprised of six schools, two public (Northwood and Ottawa Hills) and four private (Cardinal Stritch Catholic, Emmanuel Christian, Maumee Valley Country Day School and Toledo Christian). The have three football-only schools (Edon, Hilltop and Montpelier) which make up for the three TAAC schools that do not offer that sport. Only three of the six can match Swanton sport for sport.
It creates a challenge in having to find out-of-conference schools to fill a schedule. As an example, Maumee Valley does not have football, wrestling, girls soccer, volleyball, softball or bowling.
Other factors that should be considered before a decision is made are the increased travel to away games, the lack of intense league rivalry competition and the drop off in visitor crowd sizes. Private school fans, generally speaking, do not travel well. The students, families and alumni come from a wide geographical area and do not develop the same sense of community and support as small town school systems. This would result in less revenue for Swanton Schools and the Swanton business community. A thorough examination of the TAAC and its history would seem to be in order here. What exactly would we be getting ourselves in to?
The real question we need to ask is, “Do we have more to gain than we do to lose by leaving the NWOAL?” We need to look closely at what we are willing to sacrifice just to add hardware to the trophy case. It makes me wonder if we are choosing the easier path to “respectability” for our sports programs. Instead of finding a way and working to build ourselves up to a more competitive level, are we settling to be less than what we can become and what we have been before?
Small communities and their respective school systems need to work together to become and remain successful. The Village of Swanton and the Swanton Local School District need to work together more closely to raise each other up. Strong Schools/Strong Community is more than bumper sticker. It is what works.
Four new Village Council members will be sworn in this January and I am encouraged by the attitude and commitment to improving the community through economic development that was reflected in their campaign speeches. Gone will be two Councilmen that labeled working with the schools as “bad business” and saw no need for improving the local economy.
I am also encouraged by the efforts of those involved with the campaign to raise funds for a new baseball/softball complex. It shows we have residents who care enough about our school to work to give our athletes the tools to be successful. Granted, we have had a rough few years in football but the Bulldogs have been consistently strong in volleyball, golf, girls soccer, girls basketball and have done well in state tournaments.
Swanton Schools do not have the smallest student population in the NWOAL. They have more than Delta, Evergreen, Liberty Center and Patrick Henry and are very close to Archbold. I recommend we remain in the NWOAL, the oldest school sports league in Ohio, and have the Village and the School District funnel resources (time and money) into our youth and school sports programs.
It will not happen overnight. We will need to be patient but we can make it a reality. I know the Swanton Board of Education and the Administration will make whatever decision they believe will be in the best interest of school. I hope it will be the decision to improve and not settle.