TAAC schools left scrambling to fill out schedule

Yaneek Smith

The Toledo Area Athletic Conference is facing a conundrum.
        The conference will be without Toledo Christian for its football season, leaving it with just seven schools. At this point, the remaining teams are left scrambling to find a replacement on their schedule. The Eagles are planning to play eight-man football this season.
        This comes just five years after they advanced to the playoffs. In 2014, TC had 26 players, but that number steadily declined to 15 this year.
        These days, some schools aren't even fielding junior high and junior varsity teams, which creates an unfortunate predicament for athletic directors and coaches.
        "Everybody is scrambling, there's not much to do at this stage. There aren't a whole lot of good options," said Northwood coach Ken James. "(Facing TC) was a home game for us, so it's a financial issue — football is a big part of our athletic budget. It creates some difficulty for us, but we'll deal with it.
        "We found out about a week ago. (TC) thought it was going to be okay, but as time went by in the summer, some kids dropped out, some kids transferred and some decided not to come out."
        James doesn't think the Eagles will be back with a varsity squad.
        "My guess is they won't ever be back. I think they'll move into the eight-man football realm," said James. "They've struggled with numbers for so long. I think there will be more (schools moving to eight-man football) in the next five years."
        James says fewer high school students are playing football.
        "Some big schools are having problems with numbers, too. It's the nature of the beast. The concussion issue is a big issue with people,” James said. “You've got other things available. You have e-sports — you can be an athlete without leaving the comfort of your recliner.
        “The environment is a little different than it was 20 years ago," James continued. "A lot of schools added soccer. TC is one of the smallest schools in Ohio that had football and soccer. It's difficult to field that many teams — you've got golf, cross country and soccer. It gives kids other options. In a small school, it's very difficult to field multiple teams in a season.
        "It's a numbers game. Numbers throughout the league are not great — that's the nature of small-enrollment school districts. You're playing poker with fewer cards than everyone else. In another two to three years, we could have more schools drop down to eight-man football. At some point, I think Ohio will create a separate eight-man division."
        In addition to Northwood, there is still Cardinal Stritch, Edon, Hilltop, Montpelier, Ottawa Hills and Stryker playing football. Edon, Hilltop, Montpelier and Stryker are members of the TAAC for football only, playing in the Buckeye Border Conference for other sports.
        The TAAC has undergone other changes in recent years. In 2018, Danbury and Gibsonburg left for the Sandusky Bay Conference, and two years before that, Tiffin Calvert departed for the SBC.
        Cardinal Stritch coach Bryan Dudash, who was previously the coach at Danbury, says that TC is leaving the rest of the teams in the league in a tough position.
        "From what I've heard, (TC is) done with 11-man football. They're trying to go pretty hard at eight-man," Dudash said. "They've left us scrambling"
        When Dudash coached the Lakers, they struggled with numbers, too.
        "(TC) gave the excuse of them having soccer. Cardinal Stritch has soccer, and we still have numbers — we're going to be close to 30 kids this year," he said.
        "In 2010 (at Danbury), we started with 15 players. The last three games, we were down to 11 players. My feelings toward TC aren't very supportive. They left seven other schools in the TAAC looking for games."
        Despite the unfortunate predicament the seven schools are facing, Dudash believes the conference is in good shape.
        "I think the conference is strong. We have the four teams (in western) Ohio — Edon, Hilltop, Montpelier and Stryker — there's us in the eastern Toledo, Northwood and Ottawa Hills," he said. "We have a good, strong seven teams in the conference. My personal opinion is to try and get a (school like) Woodmore to come in. I think the conference is strong, you've got outstanding coaches in this league, and teams are making the playoffs."
        Stritch is in need of a home football game on Friday, September 27 (week 5). Contact Athletic Director Dick Cromwell at dcromwell@cardinalstritch.org.


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