For six of 10 local football teams, this is the final year to win a championship in their current league.
For three of the remaining four, their league will look a little bit different in 2011.
Eastwood, Genoa, Gibsonburg, Woodmore, and Lake are competing in their final season of the Suburban Lakes League. Gibsonburg will join the Toledo Area Athletic Conference in 2011, and the other four schools will then become members of the newly formed Northern Buckeye Conference.
Clay will leave the Toledo City Athletic League after this school year to join the Three Rivers Athletic Conference. Clay is not the only school leaving the City League. For the purpose of football, three Catholic schools (St. John’s Jesuit, St. Francis De Sales, Central Catholic) and Whitmer will leave in 2011 for the TRAC.
For Waite, Cardinal Stritch, and Northwood, this is the final year in which their league will look as it does — although all three schools will remain where they are, conference-wise.
Starting in 2011, Waite will compete against only Bowsher, Start, Woodward, Scott, and Rogers for a league gridiron championship.
For Stritch and Northwood, the addition of Gibsonburg as the TAAC’s eighth football team in 2011 will present new possibilities. In addition, Montpelier, a Northwest Ohio Athletic League member, has been invited to join the Buckeye Border Conference, and if the Williams County school follows through it could present another football only member for the TAAC in the near future. Edon and Hilltop are BBC schools who play football only in the TAAC today.
Northwood coach Ken James, while admitting Gibsonburg could become a gridiron force next year in the TAAC, this year wants to see his Rangers protect the championship they won the past three years.
“We should have high expectations because we have a lot of starters back from last year,” James said. “All we’re trying to do now is get through our non-conference schedule successfully and move on from there.”
Oak Harbor is the only local football team that will see no changes in its league structure between this fall and next year, unless something happens that affects the Sandusky Bay Conference in the meantime.
What does this mean for local schools? It means they want to go out a winner in the final season of current league play.
Clay has not won a football championship in its short City League history, but Waite has 14 outright titles, two co-championships, and one “more recent” divisional tie. Waite championships are in 1926, ’28, ’31, ’32, ’33, ’34, ’36, ’37, ’39, ’40, ’43, ’45, ’47, ’48, ’56, and ’63. The problem is, the Waite gridders have not won an all-out title in 47 years. However, in 1985 under Coach Jim Wasserman the Indians did take a tri-divisional championship.
This year, Waite’s roster size exploded with former Libbey players joining, plus freshmen are listed on the varsity. Toledo Public Schools no longer supports teams for ninth graders, and Libbey High School closed, scattering players throughout the other CL public school teams.
The addition of new players has Coach Gardner Howard excited about his team’s chances for improvement. Next year, expect those chances to be even better in the six-team City League.
Since the SLL began in 1972, Genoa leads all-time with 11 football championships. The Comets are followed by Eastwood with 10, Gibsonburg and Otsego have seven each, Elmwood has six, Woodmore five, Oak Harbor four, and Lake, Northwood, and Lakota each have one. Oak Harbor, Lakota, and Northwood are no longer members.
If you rank each school on how well it did over nearly four decades, giving eight points for first place, seven for second, and so forth down to one point for eighth place, Eastwood is in the No. 1 position. Following, in order, are Genoa, Otsego, Elmwood, Woodmore, Gibsonburg, Lake, and Lakota.
Veteran coach Jerry Rutherford is hoping Eastwood can win its first title since 2006. Genoa, under Coach Mike Vicars, has been the dominant force since then. An Eastwood league championship would make the Comet and Eagle programs tied all-time as the two schools with the most championships.
“We have a big senior class, and it’s their team,” Rutherford said. “It should be interesting to see how they lead.”
Another SLL member, Lake, is facing a daunting task. While the school is still recovering from a June 5 tornado that destroyed its building, football coaches will have to communicate with students who attend classes a mile away from the practice facility — at an Owens Community College building on Tracy Road in Northwood.
The good news for Lake — insurance has paid for new field turf that has been installed by Oregon-based Maumee Bay Turf Center. Lake’s first home game, which will be played September 3 next to its destroyed former high school building, is against Lemoyne Road rival Northwood.
If Lake manages to win only its second SLL gridiron title in school history, it would be another miracle to add to the long list of miracles stemming from that EF-4 tornado.
(Press football previews by Press sports editor J. Patrick Eaken and contributing writers Mark Griffin, Scott Calhoun, and Nick Huenefeld. Press photos by Scott Grau; Harold Hamilton/hehphotos.lifepics.com; John Pollock/Pollock.smugmug.com; Lee Welch/familyphotogroup.com; Dean Utendorf/woodmorephotos.com.)