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Vermilion: NOL the right fit for us

Mark Hazelwood • Nov 3, 2011 at 9:00 AM

Too much change, too soon. The Vermilion school and athletic officials seized an opportunity to benefit the community as a whole rather than wait and see how things play out from the sidelines.

After several internal discussions, an application was sent to the Northern Ohio League, which voted unanimously Monday to approve the Sailors as a seventh member of the state's third-oldest league.

"As things change, you have to look for a league or schools that most match your demographic to the size of school," Vermilion athletic director Ben Ohlemacher said of the decision to leave the West Shore Conference.

"Our population is more consistent with NOL sized schools," Ohlemacher added. "Looking at what the NOL communities look like, we like to think in both academics and athletics we match those in NOL."

Two key issues still need worked out. It's not known when Vermilion will leave the WSC for the NOL. The pending move means the school will also take a look into getting put into the Northwest District as opposed to the Northeast.

"At what point in time will that happen, we're not sure," Ohlemacher said. "We have to dot some I's and cross some T's with current our membership so that we're doing the right thing by all accounts."

After Vermilion applied for the NOL and was turned down in favor of Fostoria in 2002, the Sailors league membership stayed in a state of flux. Two years of playing an independent schedule preceded the school's membership in the West Shore Conference, which was formed in 2005, largely as a conference with short road trips and schools of comparable sizes.

But as population and the economy negatively impacted school districts across the state, the WSC found itself with great disparities in enrollment and schools leaving the conference after just five years of existence. Original members Firelands and Fairview left and were replaced by Elyria Catholic entering this school year. Lakewood was approved as a member beginning next year, which may have signaled the final nail in Vermilion's desire to stay in the conference.

Lakewood and North Ridgeville are already Division I while other WSC members such as Avon and Midview may not be far off. Lakewood currently has 440 more boys than Vermilion, a staggering disparity for conference members.

Ohlemacher said there has been zero negative backlash on the move within the district.

"A decade later, I guess it was meant to be for us," Ohlemacher said of getting in the NOL a second time around. "I've heard nothing but positives at this point in time because I believe people realize the situation. You look at some of the WSC schools with our current enrollment and I think people have come to see it as a major factor.

"And I think as people in our community, we talk about playing the schools within the NOL with the proud traditions," he said. "Just look at the three football teams playing still this week. People have to learn yet where Shelby, Willard and Tiffin are, but we're familiar with the others."

One of the biggest issues aside from enrollment in the constant cycle of conference realignment is travel. Vermilion will be facing longer trips in the NOL as opposed to the WSC, most notably bus rides to Tiffin and Shelby. But Ohlemacher noted the average WSC trip is 27 miles to the NOL's 37.

"It's something we studied quite a bit," he said. "Some trips will be longer for us, but one of the ways I've approached the situation is, the control we have of doing what's best for our kids."

Ohlemacher also doubles as the football coach at Vermilion, and is well aware of the challenge his program will face when it takes on the likes of Sandusky, Bellevue, Columbian and the potentially emerging Norwalk. Ohlemacher is a 1996 Sandusky graduate and his family still has reserved seats to Blue Streak home games. He played against the Sailors all four years in high school.

"If you're a good coach, you want to be on a relatively even playing field," Ohlemacher said. "You want to be apples and apples, not apples and oranges. You want to compete and believe if you work hard and do things the right way, you have chance to be competitive.

"Truth be told, a lot of people think it's a football and basketball thing, and to the general public it is. But from the AD desk, you have to understand the dynamic of other sports. This is a good fit for us, and it adds some stability to NOL, which is what everyone wants ... a place to call home for years."

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