BY J. PATRICK EAKEN | MIRROR SPORTS — The Maumee City Schools Board of Education hosted a special meeting last Thursday to discuss moving from the Northern Lakes League to the Northern Buckeye Conference for sports.
The majority of parents and community members watching the meeting via videostream encouraged the district to make the switch. At the March 22 meeting, the Maumee school board unanimously approved the change.
The vote will take Maumee out of the NLL, where it is playing schools with over twice its enrollment, to playing schools with similar size enrollment in the NBC.
The larger schools, such as Perrysburg and Anthony Wayne, have dozens more student-athletes from which to choose.
“Wins and losses aside, it’s important the students have an opportunity to leave high school with good memories,” Chris Wedge messaged on Facebook during the meeting.
“It’s extremely difficult for a student-athlete to receive recognition when other schools have so many seniors up for voting. Going to a league with similar playing levels gives students an opportunity for recognition.”
That does not mean that as Maumee goes into the NBC, they are going to start winning championships immediately.
The NBC schools – Eastwood, Rossford, Fostoria, Lake, Genoa, Otsego and Woodmore, will have something to say about that.
“We know if our board of education should make that decision for us to move to the NBC, we absolutely understand that we are not going to walk into that league and suddenly become champions. That is not how it works,” said Maumee athletic director Matt Szyndler.
The fact remains, however, that for Maumee, championships have been few and far between competing in the NLL.
“Even though we’ve had some success in the last couple years with volleyball and baseball – in baseball, we went to the state semifinals four years ago, but we weren’t league champs,” Szyndler said.
“We were third. I think our last league champion was our bowling team and that has been three years ago.
“It is in the money sports, football and basketball, where we see the biggest declines in NLL championships.”
The last football championship was in 2009, when Maumee, under coach John Boles, shared a title with Southview.
Over the last three years, Maumee has gone a combined 1-28 overall, including 1-20 in the NLL. Last year, the Panthers were 0-9 and were outscored 443-47 in football.
The basketball team has not had a winning season since 2013-14, and this winter went 1-14 overall and 0-7 in the NLL. Every league loss this season, except one, was by a double-digit margin.
“My boys have been competing since 2011 and as a parent watching my boys compete in the NLL, I toed the line as far as saying this was a great opportunity because they are competing against stronger schools and it gives them an opportunity to become stronger and the teams to become greater,” said Keith Drown, Maumee Athletic Boosters president.
“But I will say, watching that for the past 10 years, I’ve seen more that they were beaten down. It was a struggle to go out and compete at that level on a routine basis.
“As a booster president, we have tried to keep the energy up and engage people and create excitement, but it is very difficult when we are not putting W’s up. It’s tough to get people excited when they know the kids may not be able to compete.”
Szyndler notes that the volleyball team and the softball squad have both reached the regional tournament twice in recent years, but league championships are still not happening.
“We’re seeing the best competition in the state of Ohio, but we are not winning NLL championships,” said volleyball coach Lindsay Vannett.
“The last two years we have finished fifth in the league. The success we found is going to change. Every year different girls come in and different girls leave, and you are going to see our success going up and down as you see these smaller waves coming through.
“We have multiple-sport athletes in our program and having them remain multiple-sport athletes, I think making this league change is going to help overall success,” said Vannett, who is also the strength and conditioning coach, a varsity track coach, Gateway Middle School basketball coach and teacher in the district.
“Our high school teams have achieved success in recent years, and I specifically think about baseball, softball, volleyball and our team sports – even though they’ve had successful postseason success, some of them have still had a hard time in league play the rest of the season,” Szyndler said.
“We are in a challenging league and it does prepare us for the postseason, but the postseason is not the only thing we look at. We often feel for all our student-athletes and that includes junior varsity, freshmen, eighth grade and seventh grade. Those teams do not have a postseason.
“So the idea that playing in the Northern Lakes League is something that is good for us because it prepares us for the postseason is true for varsity, but it is not true for the remainder of our teams.”
Ding Dong Bell Rivalry
One of the questions that coaches have heard is whether the rivalry with Perrysburg will continue, especially the annual contest for the Ding Dong Bell in football.
Szyndler notes that non-league games with NLL schools will still be scheduled, but Maumee can pick and choose who it wants to play.
“I know there is a lot of emotion wondering if we are going to still play Perrysburg and if we are going to continue our rivalries with some of our other schools,” said Maumee football coach Cam Coutcher.
“Just trying to think and being as analytical as you can and looking at the numbers and recent successes that we have had, I know that everyone realizes throughout the district that not just in athletics, but we need to strive to do better on all levels.
“We know that a league change isn’t going to magically create wins for us or anything, but looking at it from an outsider perspective, or even as a teacher and coach, we know that we need to do better, but it is going to be hard to measure that when we’re outnumbered the way our enrollment goes.”
Szyndler says for the NLL diehards, it is still going to be tough coming to terms with leaving behind Maumee’s long history with the conference.
“We know it is emotional,” he said. “We have never known anything else in our community, so that is where we are at. In other parts of the state, the discussion about leagues changing is fairly common.
“I go back to 10 years, maybe 11 years ago, when Rossford left the NLL, and we had the opportunity. We had a formal invite at that time and we did not take that opportunity and we have been kind of living with that ever since.
“I think, as we can all agree on, this is quite an opportunity for Maumee, but it is also an emotional one. I think we all realize that and that is why we are taking our time and our due diligence.”