Warren G. Harding High School has found a new conference home, and Brookfield High School has found a home after a meeting Wednesday of 15 superintendents representing members of the All-American Conference.
The two schools are among six to be extended invitations to join the AAC starting with the 2015-16 fall sports season. If all goes as planned, some spring sports games will be played next year as the new AAC.
The other four schools to receive invitations are Boardman, Youngstown East, Pymatuning Valley and Ashtabula Edgewood. If all accept, the AAC will grow from its current membership of 15 to 21.
"I'm very pleased it worked out the way it did," said AAC Commissioner Rick King after a near-unanimous vote during a meeting at Leo's Ristorante. "The superintendents knew the pluses and minuses of our league. They knew what we needed to have done. The plan presented was presented in such a way that they had a hard time saying no.
"I think we're taking a very strong conference and making it into a great conference," King added. "It's also going to allow some of the old rivalries to be rekindled. It's exciting to have Boardman, Youngstown City Schools and Harding part of the equation. It's great to bring Brookfield back, and we're going to expand to Ashtabula (County)."
The news was welcomed warmly by Paul Trina, athletic director of Warren Schools. Harding is currently a member of the Lake Erie League, which is comprised primarily of Cleveland-area schools. Moving to the AAC will cut down on travel costs and open up rivalries with schools closer to home.
"It has so many advantages," Trina said. "It gives our kids an opportunity to go down the road to play a local rival. It gives our parents the chance to travel and watch our kids play. When we're hosting an event it gives the opportunity to have more people at the games because they can physically come to our facility and enjoy the game. It will help receipts and balance the budget a little bit."
Brookfield was a member of the AAC when it was initially formed but pulled out three years ago for competitive reasons. At the time, Brookfield had the smallest enrollment of every school in the three-tiered conference. Coaches voiced concern about having to play crossover games with schools in a higher-enrollment tier.
Tim Taylor, Brookfield's athletic director, believes that problem will be solved.
"From what we've heard, the lower seven or eight schools would avoid crossing over and playing some of the bigger schools," Taylor said. "The fact that there will be seven to eight with pretty similar enrollment should be a more competitive situation for us."
Current plans call for a three-tiered system in most sports, with the exception of football, which will have a fourth tier that will include Harding, Boardman and Austintown Fitch. In addition to playing two round-robin games, those three schools will also play one game against an opponent in a three-team tier that will include Howland, Canfield and East.
Those six higher tiered schools will likely join Poland and Niles McKinley in the big-school tier for all other sports. In cases of sports where not all schools field teams, there might be fewer than three tiers.
The tiers will be called Red, White and Blue, which was the case before the recent change to American and National Divisions for a two-tiered system. The upper portion of the middle tier will play crossover games against the lower portion of the upper tier in football, while the lower portion of the middle tier will play the upper portion of the lower tier. Crossover games won't count toward division championships.
"With master scheduling, we're going to guarantee that this league will be in existence for a long time," King said.
A major benefit will be the reduction in traveling costs. Trina also pointed out that middle school and freshmen programs will have an opportunity to play in conference tournaments.
Harding will still face the challenge of completing its football schedule after filling in Fitch, Boardman and one of either Howland, Canfield or East. Trina hopes that previous conference affiliations and longstanding non-conference ties will make the task easier.
"An advantage for us is we've been several places and have developed some relationships along the way," Trina said. "We're optimistic we will put together an exciting football schedule that will have a local flavor along with traditional games we've played over the years."