The recent shakeup in the Cross County Conference leaves the Fort Loramie High School football team and girls golf team without homes starting in the fall of 2021.
If the Redskins can’t find a good conference fit by then, they’re prepared to play as an independent. That’s something Fort Loramie athletic director Mitch Westerheide is familiar with. He played during Fort Loramie’s first three varsity football seasons when the program also played an independent schedule.
“All options are on the table right now,” said Westerheide, a 2008 Fort Loramie graduate.
“It’s definitely not ideal. If you look around the area most teams are in a conference. As we’ve been searching around there’s going to be some drive time for our student-athletes, which is unfortunate. Knowing our kids they’re not afraid of a challenge. They’re going to be on the bus a little bit longer but they’ll play whoever and whenever.”
On Feb. 20, 10 CCC members announced their intention to leave the CCC and start a new 10-team conference. Those schools were Ansonia, Arcanum, Bradford, Franklin-Monroe, Mississinawa Valley, National Trail, Newton, Tri-County North, Tri-Village and Twin Valley South.
Covington was invited but declined, while Bethel and Miami East were not invited. On Monday, a new eight-team conference was announced that included Bethel, Covington, Lehman Catholic, Miami East, Milton-Union, Northridge, Riverside and Troy Christian.
Both new leagues will start play with the 2021-2022 school year. Until then the CCC remains intact.
“I think our administration did a great job as they went through this process,” Fort Loramie football coach Spencer Wells said. “At the end the day you hope something works out with a conference. But it has to be a good fit. … The positive is we have two seasons in the CCC, which gives us a little bit of time to figure things out. I’m taking the optimistic route we’ll have something figured out by then.”
Fort Loramie was in talks to remain with Bethel, Covington and Miami East. But other league members wanted full sports membership across the board, meaning Fort Loramie would have to leave the Shelby County Athletic League entirely.
“We told them from the beginning we were going to remain loyal and steadfast to the SCAL,” Westerheide said. “We have a long-standing relationship with them. We did not think it benefited all of our sports programs across the board to go full membership.”
Westerheide said Fort Loramie presented two options:
- A seven-school conference with members competing in all sports. Fort Loramie would remain in the SCAL and compete in football only for an eight-team football conference to balance scheduling.
- An eight-team conference with members competing in all sports. Fort Loramie would remain in the SCAL and compete in football only, and find another football-only program for a 10-team football conference.
“I think they had their mind made up they wanted eight full memberships,” Westerheide said. “We did not get a second on a motion for the options we put on the table, which is disappointing.
“(The CCC split) was kind of the worst kept secret around. We heard a lot of rumors about it. It still took us by surprise. The next round (not remaining with Bethel, Covington and Miami East) definitely was a shock to us. We did not expect that. We were hoping to remain together. People had different thoughts on what the new conference was going to look like.”
Westerheide said the first three weeks of the 2021 football season are booked. Finding games for the next seven weeks will be challenging. The Ohio High School Athletic Association lists 25 schools as independent members.
For comparison, Lima Central Catholic is independent. Last season’s football schedule included Spencerville (Division VI), Delphos St. John’s (D-VII), Ada (D-VI), Toledo Waite (D-II), Toledo Rogers (D-III), Woodlan, Ind. (D-IV), Columbus East (D-IV), Troy Christian (D-VI) and Lucas (D-VII) in Richland County.
“I’m optimistic,” Wells said. “Two years is a long time and a lot of things can happen with different alignments and different conferences. We’ll see how it all shakes out.
“I think we have a lot to offer a conference. If it’s a football-only situation, we’ve got great community support and you’re going to get a great gate. We have a great tradition going on here, and not just in football.”
Potential opponents include Elgin, Hardin Northern, Perry, Ridgemont, Upper Scioto Valley and Waynesfield-Goshen of the Northwest Central Conference, which loses Lehman and Riverside in 2021. Fort Loramie was a member of the NWCC in football only from 2012-2016. Westerheide said he has not had any contact with the NWCC league representatives, but has contacted some of the schools about openings.
“I know (playing as an independent) can be done,” Westerheide said. “I’ve been through it as a player. We’re going to have some longer bus rides but the way I look at it it’s more time you get to spend with your buddies and create more memories. … We’re going to overcome it and be stronger. We’re always looking for the next best option.”