WGH, Brookfield may join expanding AAC

Come early May, Warren G. Harding might be coming home – or at least not travelling as far for away games.

Harding athletic director Paul Trina confirmed that the school has applied to join the All-American Conference in all sports starting next season, as the AAC is accepting applications for new member schools.

“We think it will be a great fit for us,” Harding athletic director Paul Trina said. “We’ve wanted to be a part of a local conference for quite some time. I think it would nice for our kids to be part of a local conference where they’re going to play in front of bigger crowds.”

After the dissolution of the Steel Valley Conference at the end of the 2008-2009 school year, Harding spent one season as an independent before moving to the Lake Erie League, a conference made of up of mostly Cleveland-area schools in 2010.

The league was originally split into two divisions, but with Mentor leaving and the two Lorain schools combining, it became one division. That forced Harding to travel to some schools west of Cleveland, making the trips more difficult for all sports.

Trina also pointed to the lack of traditional rivalries with any of the schools in that conference.

He pointed to the football game at Howland and the basketball game against Niles as examples of how playing local rivals on a consistent basis could add more to the game for both competing schools.

“Obviously for us, travelling to Cleveland has been a strain both from a time perspective and financially to make those kind of trips,” Trina said. “When we go there, there’s really no rivalry. We’re all the way from Warren playing teams in Cleveland.

“The contrast is when we’ve played Howland in football locally, we had our best crowd. When we played Niles in basketball this year, we had a near-capacity crowd in our gym. It’s exciting for the kids. It’s exciting for both communities.”

With perhaps only one current member of the AAC comparable in size to Harding, Trina said that the Raiders are really to take whatever offer the conference may have.

He was not opposed to Harding joining the conference in all sports but football, as he would have no problems filling the 10-game schedule for football.

“We want to do what works for the All-American Conference,” Trina said. “However they see us fit, we would be open to that. Say they let us in for everything but football, if they were to offer that to us, that would be something we would do. If we would have to go independent in football, we would do that.”

If all goes well, however, Harding will not have to do that.

All-American Conference athletic director Rick King said that along with Harding, six schools- Boardman, East, Ashtabula Edgewood, Brookfield and Conneaut-have already applied, with two or three more schools considering.

The conference will accept applications for two more weeks before voting on which schools to add on May 1.

If Boardman, East and Harding are all accepted, the AAC can return to the three-tier system like when it came into existence in 2008. A likely scenario would have those three schools, combined with Austintown Fitch, in the large school division.

“What we’d like to do is go back to a three-tier system,” King said. “We’re trying to shoot for three equal groupings of those three denomination of sizes (large, medium and small schools).

“We’re not ruling out anything, we’re not guaranteeing anything. We’re just looking at size, we’re looking at facilities and we’re looking at travel times.”

Trina said that he would let the LEL know that Harding has applied to join another conference, and despite the delicate nature of conference-swapping, he doesn’t see LEL having a problem with Harding leaving.

“They understand the local piece of it,” Trina said. “When we applied to them, our story was that we’ve not been able to find anything locally, and we believed that we were a good fit from a sheer competitive standpoint. There’s always been our desire to be in something local, so I’m hoping that this is the time that it works for us.”

If everything pans out with the AAC conference expansion, King said it will be great for the valley.

“It could be very exciting for this particular area if we can get everything to fall into place,” he said.