1960s a time of change in area school athletics

The history of high school athletic leagues and conferences in Trumbull County — more specifically changes in those leagues, especially recently — is, according to most observers, tied to the sport of football.

But until the 1960s, only seven schools in the county sponsored football teams and yet there still was change. In fact, an examination of Tribune Chronicle records and a compilation of conference histories on the Ohio High School Athletic Association website, shows that change in leagues and conferences has been a constant.

Since the state began its football playoff system in 1972, that sport is the only one in Ohio in which a team has to qualify for the postseason. Thus, it is important what kind of schedule a team puts together, and therefore, its membership in a league — or independent status — can be a factor.

The 1960s were a time of change in Trumbull County high school athletics because of several school mergers and the fact that 10 schools began football programs.

The changes actually started in the late 1950s when the Maplewood school district was formed from Mecca, Johnston and Greene in the 1959-60 school year, the same school year that Mineral Ridge started playing football.

Badger was formed the following year — from the merger of Kinsman, Hartford, Vernon and Gustavus — and Lakeview (Cortland and Bazetta) and Mathews (Vienna and Fowler) began in the 1961-62 school year.

Throughout the rest of the decade, football programs were started at John F. Kennedy, Howland, Lakeview, Champion, Leavittsburg, Liberty, Mathews and Chalker. In addition, the Warren City school district added a second high school, Western Reserve, which also played football.

A final merger, Leavittsburg and Braceville joining to form LaBrae, finished off the decade in 1970.

But even before the ’60s, there was plenty of change, mostly because some communities grow faster than others and some shrink in population. That has been a key factor in league lineups for decades.

Before the ’60s, most non-football Trumbull schools participated in the Trumbull Interscholastic Association, a multi-tiered conference that sponsored league play in boys basketball and a postseason tournament that acted as a qualifier for the OHSAA tournament.

Though records are sketchy, the lineups of the various tiers changed over the years, presumably based on school enrollments.

Among football-playing schools, the Ohio Scholastic League existed from 1950-53 and included Warren, Canton McKinley, Massillon, Alliance, Mansfield and Toledo Waite.

The Steel Valley Conference began play in 1949 and included Niles, Girard and Hubbard at its inception, though Niles left in 1957. Austintown Fitch, Struthers and Campbell were the other original members and Boardman joined in 1951.

Brookfield replaced Niles in 1959 and the ensuing lineup — Girard, Hubbard, Brookfield, Fitch, Boardman, Struthers, Campbell — lasted through 1968 and is considered by many fans as the “classic” SVC alignment.

Another SVC lineup fans remember is the one from 1982-85, which featured four Trumbull schools — Harding, Reserve, Howland and Niles — and four from Mahoning County — Fitch, Boardman, Ursuline and Cardinal Mooney.

That ended when the Trumbull schools pulled out to form — along with Hubbard — the All-American Athletic Conference. That league lasted from 1986-90 and ended when Western Reserve was closed due to declining population in Warren.

The “new” Harding went back to the SVC and the five-team alignment with the same Mahoning schools lasted through 2003 when Fitch and Boardman left for the Federal League.

One league many longtime fans recall is the original All-American Conference, a football-only school that included Warren, Niles, Canton McKinley, Massillon, Steubenville and Alliance. That league started up in 1963 and lasted until 1979.

Those schools played their other sports in the Ohio Big 8 which existed from 1961-81. Warren Western Reserve, which began operations in 1966, joined that league in 1967 and also participated in the Northeast Ohio Athletic Conference which ran from 1970-77 and included Cuyahoga Falls, Akron Hoban, Akron St. Vincent, Barberton and Lorain Southview.

Many of the new football schools in the county ended up in the Trumbull AA League. That organization began in 1960 in the aftermath of the several mergers of that time, but did not sponsor football until 1968.

The original members were Howland, Cortland, Champion, Leavittsburg, Newton Falls and Liberty. Badger joined the following year and stayed in the league until 2003 even though it never participated in football.

Canfield came in in 1968, then left, with Howland and Liberty, in 1971 for the Mahoning Valley Conference. Liberty came back to the Trumbull AA in 1979 and Brookfield was in (1972-77, after 1987) and out (1978-86) of the conference. Mathews and East Palestine both were in the league for a time, and after Hubbard joined in 1990, the league changed its name to the Trumbull Athletic Conference and included Lakeview, Champion, LaBrae, Newton Falls, Liberty, Badger, Brookfield and Hubbard.

Girard was added in 2000 and Badger left in 2003, leaving the final TAC lineup that eventually merged into the new All-American Conference in 2008.

The aforementioned Mahoning Valley Conference began play in 1972 with Kennedy, Howland, Girard, Liberty, Canfield, Poland and West Branch. Howland left after 1975, Liberty after 1979 and West Branch after 1981. Meanwhile, the league added Salem in 1978, Struthers in 1979 and Campbell in 1980.

Then, in 1994, the member schools disbanded the MVC. Five of the schools — Girard, Canfield, Poland, Struthers and Salem — formed the Metro Athletic Conference with Howland and Niles. They did not invite Kennedy and Campbell to join the new league.

Alliance, and then East Liverpool, also were in the league just before the 2008 merger with the TAC to form the AAC.

The second coming of the All-American Conference is much different than the first in that it is a large, multi-tier, all-sports conference. It was modeled to some extent on similar leagues which had become popular in the Cleveland and Columbus areas.

It also followed by two years the start of the Inter Tri-County League which combined the Inter-County League and the Tri-County League.

The TCL began in 1932 and at times included Boardman and Poland, along with mostly Columbiana County schools. The ICL started up in 1951 and included McDonald and Lowellville as original members. Mineral Ridge had been in the league since 1961, Western Reserve from 1959, Mathews from 1991-2004 and Jackson-Milton from 1954-60 and again from 1967 until the merger of the two leagues.

The ITCL remained a 16-school organization for its entire existence, but adjusted from two to three tiers in an effort to reduce travel. Finally, after it announced expansion plans in recent years, it broke up. One of the resulting leagues — the Mahoning Valley Athletic Conference — includes McDonald, Mineral Ridge, Jackson-Milton, Western Reserve, Lowellville, Springfield, Sebring and Waterloo and begins play this school year.

The AAC eventually expanded to include larger schools Harding, Fitch, Boardman and others, and went to a four-tier alignment for football and three tiers for other sports. Particular sports programs which showed sustained success — such as the Hubbard volleyball program — were permitted to play up a division, and specific struggling program or those just starting out could play down a division.

The league’s future is in doubt after the announcement this year that most of the middle tier schools are planning to pull out and form their own eight-team league.

The fate of the remaining TIA schools after the 1960s also is tied to football, even though a number of the schools don’t play that sport. Mathews and Chalker always have been linked to the other schools — Maplewood, Bristol, Lordstown, Bloomfield and Farmington (before 1988) — but since the Mustangs and Wildcats play football, they on at least two occasions have left their Trumbull County brethern for leagues with football (Grand River Conference, East Suburban Conference).

Finally, the Northeastern Athletic Conference was formed in 2002 and included, or has since added, enough other football schools — Pymatuning Valley, Grand Valley, Ledgemont (before it closed), Windham and Newbury — to keep Mathews and Chalker home.