The Jackson County Times Journal
JACKSON — If the ship named the Southeastern Ohio Athletic League is indeed sinking, then Jackson High School — and even its fellow SEOAL members — is looking to jump off and swim to the safety of another league.
That’s because, as of Wednesday, Jackson High School — a charter member of the SEOAL — has formally applied for membership into the Tri-Valley Conference.
Jackson City Schools Superintendent Phil Howard has provided the Jackson County Times-Journal a copy of a letter, of which Howard and Jackson City Schools Board of Education President Randy Evans addressed to Tri-Valley Conference President and Southern High School Principal Daniel Otto.
The letter, typed on Jackson City School District letterhead and dated Feb. 26, 2014, is in regard to formal petitioning for membership to the TVC.
The letter goes on to state that “Should there be any other requirements for application please let me know and we will gladly complete them. We would also be available to attend a league meeting upon your request to present a case of why we believe we would be a nice addition to the Tri-Valley Conference.”
Howard also confirmed to The Jackson County Times-Journal that Gallia Academy High School, another charter member of the SEOAL and Jackson’s long-standing archrival, has formally applied for TVC membership.
The Jackson County Times-Journal has also learned that Warren High School of the SEOAL has formally applied for the TVC.
All three schools are doing so on an individual basis, as opposed to a possible SEOAL-TVC merger.
The TVC’s current by-laws prohibit it from “absorbing any conference or group of schools”.
The SEOAL — the state’s oldest non-city athletic conference — was formed in 1925 and is currently in its 89th season.
Although, since Sept. 1, 2004, when Zanesville, Portsmouth, Chillicothe and Ironton were officially admitted into the league, the SEOAL has been the epicenter of conference realignment throughout Southern Ohio — and the subject of much discussion and debate around the office water-cooler and Internet message boards.
Following the conclusion of the next academic year (2014-15), the conference loses current member Portsmouth, which will leave the SEOAL to become a member of the Ohio Valley Conference.
Portsmouth High School will join current OVC members Chesapeake, Coal Grove, Fairland, Rock Hill and South Point, as well as another newcomer — former SEOAL member Ironton — beginning with the 2015-16 school year.
PHS will honor its 2014-15 SEOAL commitments and, in basketball, is working on playing both a full SEOAL (eight games) and OVC (12 games) schedule that season.After Portsmouth departs, only original members Gallia Academy, Jackson and Logan, as well as Warren (which joined in 1986), will remain.
Gallipolis has a standing offer to join the OVC to become its eighth member, but has thus far declined the offer.
In November, officials from those schools (Jackson, Gallia Academy, Logan and Warren) discussed the viability of a four-team conference and the possibility of adding a fifth (Marietta) and maybe even a sixth member (Athens).
But Howard told The Jackson County Times-Journal that he sees “the writing on the wall for the SEOAL.”
“With Portsmouth leaving, that’s going to leave us with four members. By Gallia Academy applying to the TVC with an invitation already from the OVC, we believe they are looking to leave. We don’t want to be the last ones without a league to go to,” he said. “I want our student-athletes to have a league to compete in and a chance for them to win league championships. What we do is in the best interest of our kids, and that is for them to have a league to play in.”
The individual applications by Jackson, Gallia Academy and Warren were expedited following February’s (Feb. 12) meeting of the TVC Board of Control.
Logan High School has not indicated as to whether it will apply for TVC membership.
Howard also provided The Jackson County Times-Journal with a copy of a letter, on Southern Local High School letterhead and dated Feb. 14, 2014, from Otto to SEOAL President and Logan High School Principal Jim Robinson.
That letter states that Otto convened “a special meeting of the TVC BOC on Feb. 12 to discuss the possible changing of the by-law that was mentioned by the (TVC) Superintendents.”
The TVC’s current by-law regarding membership states that “other schools may petition for membership by formal written application. This petition should bear the signatures of the school’s Superintendent and Board of Education President. Election to membership shall be a favorable vote of not less than three-fourths (3/4) of the present membership. Each school shall be considered on an individual basis.”
The Otto-to-Robinson letter continues by stating that “After much discussion, the BOC voted to keep the by-laws as is and not change them at this time. Therefore we cannot merge or absorb the SEOAL. They will consider any team of the SEOAL that wishes to petition for membership individually under the above by-law.”
The TVC BOC is scheduled to meet again on Wednesday, March 12. If — or when — any individual school is voted upon for membership into the TVC, at least a dozen of the current league schools must approve.In November, Howard had addressed — and denied — rumors that JHS had been invited to a December meeting of the Tri-Valley Conference.
Six years ago, Jackson did apply for membership into both the TVC and Southern Ohio Conference, but were denied by both leagues.
“We were denied membership by both the TVC and SOC. We applied, it was voted upon and we were turned down. After that, I made it very clear that we would not make another application for those two leagues. We have not and will not (as Jackson High School individually),” Howard told The Jackson County Times-Journal for a report published on Nov. 24.
That was then, though, as he added in that same interview “there are not a lot of options available.”
“The four schools are trying to stay together somehow, whether we can get more members or be part of another league. We’ve talked about other teams coming in, but most schools are happy with the leagues they are in right now. But a four-team league (SEOAL) can’t survive,” said Howard.
The league expanded to 10 schools prior to the 2006-07 season, but has since lost Athens (Tri-Valley Conference), Zanesville and Marietta (East Central Ohio League), Chillicothe (South Central Ohio League) and Ironton, with Portsmouth next to depart.
All of the remaining members have had flirtations and dialogue with joining various leagues in the past few years.
Logan had meetings and discussions with the Mid-State League and Ohio Capital Conference; Warren with the Tri-Valley Conference and Muskingum Valley League, and Jackson and Gallia Academy with both the TVC and OVC.
The first season of TVC competition was in 1969, as membership has gradually expanded from four teams then to 15 teams four years ago.
River Valley begins play in the TVC next year, raising the membership number to 16, as the larger-school Ohio Division will consist of seven teams and the smaller-school Hocking Division still at nine.
River Valley will join the TVC-Ohio.
Wellston and Vinton County are among the TVC-Ohio schools, along with Athens, Alexander, Nelsonville-York and Meigs.
Craig Dunn, sports editor of The Logan Daily News, contributed to this report