Vikings receive invitation to join OCC

By Brad Morris
SportingPumpkin.com

ASHVILLE — It’s a search that has taken slightly over a decade to complete, but Teays Valley will soon have a new conference to call home.


The Vikings were extended an invitation on Monday to join the Ohio Capital Conference, along with the Logan-Hocking School District.


The invitation will be put before the Teays Valley Board of Education for final approval on November 15. Once approved by the board, the Vikings would join the OCC for the 2024-25 school year.


“We’re the largest school district in the Mid-State League and the only school that competes in every sport except for football at the Division I level,” Teays Valley Athletic Director Joel Baker said. “We’ve had a good run and good relationship with the MSL, but we’ve known for a while that we needed to get into a league that was more of our size and allow our teams to compete against the schools that we have to play in the Central District tournaments.


“We’re very excited about the prospect of joining the OCC and what it will mean both short and long-term for Teays Valley athletics.”


The OCC will soon be a 34-school league that stretches across seven counties (Franklin, Fairfield, Licking, Delaware, Union, Pickaway and Hocking) in central Ohio after Teays Valley and Logan accept their invitations.

The division that Teays Valley and Logan will compete in has not yet been officially approved by the conference’s alignment and expansion committee, but four schools believed to be involved in the final division include Canal Winchester, Groveport, Lancaster and Newark. The division will likely comprise eight schools in the southern to southeast section of the Columbus metropolitan area.


It’s the first time that Teays Valley has switched leagues since the 1984-85 school year after they left the South Central Ohio League to join the MSL.


Logan has been looking for a league to call home since the Southeastern Ohio Athletic League ceased operations following the 2016-17 school year. Logan had been a member of the SEOAL for 92 years.


Teays Valley and Logan were two of eight schools who expressed interest in joining the OCC back in 2011 when the conference eventually decided to take Canal Winchester from the MSL-Buckeye Division to fill a spot vacated by Watkins Memorial’s departure for the Licking County League.


In the aftermath of Canal Winchester’s announced departure, the MSL floated a proposal to create a larger school division that would have included Teays Valley, Whitehall, Hamilton Township, Chillicothe, Logan, Circleville and Logan Elm, but that proposal failed to gain traction as the Buckeye Division schools wanted to stay together.

Instead, Liberty Union agreed to move from the Cardinal to the Buckeye Division to take the spot vacated by Canal Winchester.


Over the last seven years, former Teays Valley Athletic Director Randy Hageman and Baker have worked together with Logan Athletic Director Theresa Schultheiss on either joining an existing league together or forming a new league.


Teays Valley and Logan nearly spearheaded the formation of a new eight-team league in early 2019 that would have also included Bishop Hartley, Bishop Watterson, St. Francis DeSales, St. Charles, Canal Winchester and Groveport.

The night before the eight schools were scheduled to meet and vote on forming the new league, the Diocese of Columbus ruled that it wanted its four schools to remain together in the Central Catholic League, effectively killing the new league before it was born.


After that setback, Teays Valley, Logan, Canal Winchester, Groveport and Watkins Memorial, a newcomer to the group, stuck together in trying to form a new league. Watkins Memorial did not apply for readmission to the OCC and will remain in the LCL.


“We’ve explored every option with Logan on either joining an existing league or forming a new league, but in both cases there are a lot of moving parts and you have to get a number of schools to agree and do something and stay with it,” Baker said. “There were a few times when we were on the verge of doing something, but a school or two would pull out at the last minute or something else would change.


“We’ve heard the comments and chatter from folks about why were we still in the MSL given our size, but people don’t understand how difficult it is to switch leagues or try to form a new league.”


Teays Valley and Logan applied for admission to the OCC this past spring and received favorable consideration from the conference’s alignment and expansion committee.


Baker credited the significant upgrades that Teays Valley has made to its athletic facilities over the last five years, including a new turf field in the stadium, improvements to the gymnasium, baseball field and the district cutting the ribbon last week on a new two-story, 40,000-square foot field house, for receiving an invitation to join the OCC.


“We don’t get into the OCC without those improvements,” he revealed. “We went from having one of the poorer grass fields in the area due to drainage and other issues to having one of the best field turf playing surfaces in central Ohio.


“Combine that with what we’ve done to the gymnasium, the hard work that Coach (Mark) Colburn has done with our baseball field and the field house and we’ve made a lot of investments. When OCC schools have come down here to play us in non-league games, they realize it’s a short trip and that we have good facilities and are a good fit for joining the OCC.”


While the Vikings will soon be leaving the MSL, Baker said the school would like to maintain its current rivalries in non-conference play.


“We’re a Pickaway County school district and our roots are in Pickaway County,” he said. “We talked with our coaches and we want to maintain our county rivalries and also play some of the other MSL schools in ways that work for both of us.”


Baker realizes that the Vikings will likely go through a transition phase once they join the OCC and adjust to playing Division I schools on a nightly basis.


Canal Winchester provides an example of that transition, especially in football. The Indians went 9-2 in their final season in the MSL and won the Buckeye Division championship. Over their first four seasons in the OCC, the Indians won just six games before qualifying for the 2017 playoffs with a 6-4 regular-season record. In 2018, the Indians went 9-1 and won the OCC-Capital Division championship.


“I told the Board of Education when we started this process that we’d win fewer league championships in the OCC, but that we would compete better for district championships, especially after we adjust to playing that level of competition on a more frequent basis,” Baker said.


Teays Valley will depart the MSL following the 2023-24 school year as the largest school in the league, but will be the fourth smallest school in the newly expanded 34-team OCC. The district, however, continues to grow with housing developments underway outside of northern county villages like Commercial Point, which should allow the Vikings to grow into their new conference over time.


Baker noted that adjustment will begin by competing with the middle-level schools in the OCC.


“Schools like Pickerington Central are the outliers in the OCC, because they have a lot of talent that will go on and play collegiate sports at the Division I level. Most of the schools in the OCC aren’t that much different from us,” Baker said. “We want to work on competing against those middle-level OCC schools as a starting point and that means we’ll need to build more depth across all of our programs by having our kids utilize the facilities that we’ve put in place.


“Once you get to a point where you are competing and having success against those middle-level schools, then you start having more success at the district level.”

Mid-State League Buckeye Division
School Boys Girls

Amanda-Clearcreek 188 175
Bloom-Carroll 256 225
Circleville 240 236
Fairfield Union 227 233
Hamilton Township 344 328
Liberty Union 161 145
Logan Elm 246 252
Teays Valley 453 466

Potential Ohio Capital Conference Division
School Boys Girls

Canal Winchester 465 463
Groveport 778 674
Lancaster 724 625
Logan 450 445
Newark 729 682
Teays Valley 453 466
Two other schools likely to be included.

— Craig Dunn of the http://loganhockingtimes.com contributed to this story. The Logan-Hocking Times leaves everyone else in the dust when it comes to their coverage of Logan Chieftain athletics.

—Information from grades 9-11 school enrollment, courtesy of the Ohio High School Athletic Association.

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