By TED RADICK
DOLA — The Hardin Northern Local School District board voted unanimously Wednesday to apply for membership in the Northwest Central Conference.
The vote signals a likely end to the district’s 49-year membership in the Blanchard Valley Conference.
The NWCC governing board meets today, and Hardin Northern High School Principal Joe Hoelzle will submit a formal letter of application. Hoelzle said approval by NWCC could come as soon as today.
“We’re not in that conference until they accept us,” Hoelzle said after Wednesday’s school board meeting.
“That could happen tomorrow, that could take a few more meetings or they could say no. But, I’m confident they will say yes, possibly as soon as tomorrow.”
The move has been in the works for months. The Blanchard Valley Conference is expanding this fall with the addition of Riverdale, Hopewell-Loudon and North Baltimore, all schools larger than Hardin Northern. The departure of Hardin Northern would leave the BVC with 12 schools.
Hardin Northern has 50 boys and 55 girls in grades 9-11, which are the figures the Ohio High School Athletic Association uses to set its divisional breakdowns.
Of the 10 current BVC schools, only Vanlue (30 boys, 34 girls in grades 9-11) has a lower enrollment than Hardin Northern.
Full-time members of the NWCC include Lima Perry, Sidney Lehman, Upper Scioto Valley, Ridgemont, Waynesfield-Goshen and Riverside. Lima Temple Christian is a member in every sport but football, and Fort Loramie is a football-only member. The NWCC schools average 74 boys and 72 girls in grades 9-11.
Last fall, Hardin Northern was unable to field a varsity football team. Because the district didn’t notify the Blanchard Valley Conference six months before the first day of practice, that cost Hardin Northern nearly $13,000 in financial penalties and highlighted the enrollment differences between the district and its larger foes in the conference.
“Schools in the conference are growing in different directions,” Superintendent Doug Roberts said. “Liberty-Benton and Van Buren are growing, and you have schools like Hardin Northern that are losing enrollment.”
Hardin Northern officials sat in on a NWCC board meeting this past fall. Hoelzle said the conference expressed an interest in having the school come aboard. That’s the main reason he thinks Hardin Northern’s application will be accepted.
“There were some discussions at the beginning of the year, and they made us feel like we were wanted and we were welcomed,” he said. “I don’t anticipate them having any issues with us, and if there are we’ll work through them.”
This winter, three public meetings were held to allow district residents to discuss the matter with the school board, administration and coaching staff.
“This isn’t a very easy decision, but I can feel confident in my decision based on what we have heard through the meetings,” school board member Kathy Schroeder said before Wednesday’s vote. “I know I have asked people every chance I get, ‘What’s your opinion? What do you think?’ Thankfully, we did get input from the community. I don’t think we could have made this decision without that.”
Athletic Director Craig Hershey said the discussion at those meetings was lively at times.
“There were some diehard supporters to stay in the BVC, and there were some people who really thought we should go,” he said. “It was nice having all five board members at all the meetings, and the community members told us what they thought.
“I think the overwhelming majority thought it was a good idea to apply for membership in the NWCC.”
Hoelzle said Hardin Northern will notify the Blanchard Valley Conference governing board of its plans to apply to the NWCC, and its intent to withdraw from the BVC, as soon as it is accepted into its new league.
“I will be emailing the governing board of the BVC tonight, and letting them know that our board of education has directed me to apply to the NWCC,” Hoelzle said.
The Blanchard Valley Conference constitution mandates that a school remain a member for two school years after notifying the conference of its intent to withdraw. This allows remaining schools time to schedule new opponents. It’s also a rule that could be waived by a vote of the conference members.
Hoelzle, in his email to the BVC, will request a special board of governors meeting to begin the withdrawal process.
“We will discuss with them what works best for the BVC, what works best for Hardin Northern and come to an agreement,” he said. “I think the most important thing is, we’re excited to be part of the Northwest Central Conference if that’s what happens, but we also have good relations with the Blanchard Valley Conference.
“What we want to do is keep those good relations and make sure we have friendly competition in our future nonleague contests.”
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