SMCC Coach: SBC schedule keeping players away from program

Can St. Mary Central Catholic football still compete in the Sandusky Bay Conference?
Mark Hazelwood
Oct 1, 2012


Ryan Wikel has heard it all plenty of times.
St. Mary Central Catholic football can’t compete in the Sandusky Bay Conference. The Panthers are too small and have no depth to hang with the big boys. It’s not safe to put them out against bigger and stronger teams for fear of injury.
And of course, last but certainly not least, SMCC should leave the SBC for a more competitive fit in a different league.
But the third-year coach Wikel, a 1999 SMCC graduate and former player, hears nothing but white noise.
“It’s something we tell the kids we have no control of,” he said. “It’s just the way the schedule is read. Have some things changed since the last time we were competitive in the SBC? Probably.
“Is it the best fit for us? I think that’s someone else’s job. Our job is to
prepare our kids each week, and I told them we have no excuses.”
After averaging 40-plus kids per season on the roster for decades, the Panthers (1-5) broke camp this season with just 27 players, including freshmen. There is no junior varsity or freshmen team. The junior high has a combined roster of seventh and eighth-graders in the low 20s.
Faced with shrinking numbers in a conference with schools that have enrollment four times the size of SMCC, the questions about how the Panthers are surviving are getting louder with each loss, including after Friday’s 67-0 loss at Clyde.

Getting it back
For a 20-season stretch from 1988-2007, there were few, if any critics.
The Panthers made the playoffs 10 times in an 18-year span (1988-2005) and won the SBC title three times in a four-year window (1989-92). SMCC won nine playoff games in that stretch as well, including coming within two minutes of winning the Division V state championship in 1990, when it fell to St. Henry, 21-17.
SMCC also had 15 first-team All-Ohioans during those years.
But since missing out on the playoffs in the final week of the 2007 season, the Panthers are just 7-39 overall and 2-29 in the SBC. The Panthers have yielded 40 points or more in 12 of those setbacks, and two of the 29 losses have been by one possession or less.
“It’s going to be an uphill battle,” Wikel said of the SBC slate. “It’s going to challenge you. And 10 years later, when you are looking for work, maybe it’s going to be your experience going uphill all season that gets you that job. Find a way to turn it into a positive.”
When told speculation persists the Panthers can’t hang in the SBC, Panther quarterback Alex Guerra disagreed.
“I’ve been around this program for eight years, my brother (Adam) too,” he said. “That’s just St. Mary’s. That’s how it is. We’ve always been the smallest school, and always will be. Tradition shows us that we can do this. We can win the SBC, we can have All-Ohio players and compete in Division VI.
“It doesn’t matter if we’re in the SBC or not. Me personally, I do think we belong because of our tradition and our way of approaching games. I think other competition is great. I personally wouldn’t want to play in any other conference. I know we can compete. We expect to win every week, and when we don’t we are disappointed. We can still go 5-5, which would still put us in the playoffs.”
Meanwhile, injured two-way starter Ayden Opfer said he hears the talk too, but says people don’t get to see what he sees on a daily basis.
“The people that say that, they aren’t here every day. They don’t see us, and how bad we want to beat those bigger teams with the effort we put in,” Opfer said. “But because we don’t necessarily have what they have with the numbers, they don’t see that.
“In the offseason, that talk kind of gets to you, but once the season starts, you just block it out and forget it.
Wikel added there is still a sense of belief that each time the Panthers take the field, they will do the unthinkable.
“And it doesn’t all come from me,” he said. “Our kids go into games with a belief that they can compete. Once the pads start popping and some things happen, we may lose some of that belief. But I think every week they believe.
“Our locker room before the Huron game (49-7 loss, Sept. 21) was as intense as any in my three years here. But nobody thought they had a chance.”
The reality though, often paints a different picture.
“The reality is we spent Tuesday doing run defense with a half-line,” Wikel said. “We want our best on our best, and when we go full line, half of them are freshmen. Is Clyde over there going half-line preparing for us? No. They have a JV team to do that. We don’t have that.
“We adapt to what we have and find the best way to execute it. We constantly are adjusting to what we have. I think it keeps the kids fresh and gives them a belief they can win.”

Moving forward
In December of 2011, SMCC weighed its options for a new league, exploring an invitation from the Midland Athletic League. At the time, the MAL was losing Carey, Mohawk and Senca East to the new Northern 10 Athletic Conference.
While SMCC discussed internally which way to go, two other schools pursued by the MAL withdrew their interest, and on March 7 principal Mike Savona announced in a statement SMCC was staying in the SBC.
After the announcement, MAL schools North Baltimore and Hopewell-Loudon agreed to join the Blanchard Valley Conference in 2014, leaving just Tiffin Calvert, Lakota and SMCC rival Fremont St. Joseph as football member schools remaining in the league.
What does it all mean to Wikel and the SMCC coaching staff? Continue to plow forward. However, that won’t be getting any easier. The Panthers will graduate eight seniors after this season, but only have 12 eighth-graders currently playing a junior high schedule combined with the seventh-grade, also only a dozen or so kids.
“What we’ll focus on is getting as many of those eighth-graders to the freshmen level as we can,” Wikel said. “We have to get them up here to compete wherever we’re at. Is it going to be tough in the SBC? Yeah, it’s always going to be. But we have to try to retain these kids.
“And there are kids walking the halls who should be playing. When you ask them, they may not give an honest opinion, but I would tell you there are kids that would be playing, but they don’t want to play against SBC schools. That’s it. If we jumped to a different league, do more kids come out? Probably. But at this moment, we have to focus on what we’re doing each day with this group, because it’s a good group and they deserve to find that success down the road.”
Enrollment appears to have stabilized at SMCC according to the past two OHSAA reported figures, but like any other school, many alternatives also play a role in low numbers for the Panthers.
“There are easier options, and in some cases, options that are much better for the kids,” Wikel said. “Again, there are kids who should be out here and they’re not. But we’ve told our kids from Day 1, this is who we are.
“We can’t control who comes out, so just make sure you do your job and help make your teammates better, and we’ll see where we end up.”


car 54

Coach Wikel needs Larry Cook back at the Panther practice.

True Blue

Back a few years ago a freshmen at SMCC played ten quarters in one week. Only six quarters is allowed. This is one of the reasons some of the boys have left SMCC. The boys have to play both ways, which is hard on their bodies. The school better start thinking about the boys and what effect this has on them. It's to bad, SMCC hasn't got the money to hire good coaches, instead of a parent. Some of these parents don't know how to conduct themselves in coaching kids. It's a shame!!


Wikel isn't old enough to have a kid on the team...


There are down years in programs and this may be just that for SMCC, With regard to the Clyde game lets remember this is high school football. Learning and participating are key elements. I think the Clyde team need to soften the blow to SMCC in the loss. Its one thing to win and another thing to win and crush an opponent. Who knows the way Clyde keeps defeating levies their may be the day pay to participate comes and Clyde may well find they are no bigger a team in numbers than SMCC. Who knows !!

indolent indiff...

When it comes to Boys athletics Margaretta and Port Clinton say the same thing. A great year is 5-5 when you play schools that are that much bigger than you are.


SMCC has had a good tradition of winning, they had years when they stomped on Huron and Perkins. Huron is also a good example of a smaller school that does well, because it has one of the best coaches in the area.

The football team's problems are symptomatic of SMCC's overall problem in people losing interest in the "Catholic" way.

Also, Clyde deliberately runs up scores all the time. They are known for that and it's really pathetic, they have no class. Would be nice to see Perkins give them the smack down this week and remind Clyde that always being the bully has it's consequences. Running up the score like they did to the Panthers was lame, take note Clyde coaches.


from FMKiller "Running up the score like they did to the Panthers was lame, take note Clyde coaches."

What would you like to see? Should Clyde [any school in SBC] take a huddle and unanimously decide 'We should be kind and sympathetic toward SMCC and their poor little team! Let's NOT play well and/or use what we have been taught about the game and tonight we'll just lay back so SMCC can have a win.'? I'm sure that will help any who graduate from St. Mary's and go on to play college ball, right?

There is nothing endearing about a bully, period, but there is also nothing endearing about whiners either. These guys are still 'kids' and no one can tell me THEY wouldn't rub it into another team's face IF the score were reversed.


Being a CHS graduate and a member of the football team, let me just say HA!!!!! Jealousy is a B!tch. LMAO

Peachy Keen

Beachdog, you're absolutely right! I'm guessing that the Clyde coaches must have played a lot of their second and third string players in their win over poor widdle old SMCC. What are THOSE kids supposed to do when they get a chance to play? Are they supposed to take pity on SMCC or play to the best of their ability when they get a chance to? SMCC, if you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen! Maybe you should just drop football or honestly consider getting out of the SBC.


Clyde has always been a "give it your best" school. We dont take that lightly. It doesnt matter if its 1st 2nd 3rd string guys, we give it our best and expect the same treatment from our opponents.


While all you guys are feeling sorry for poor SMCC, try feeling sorry for the rest of the SBC teams, who are trying to make the playoffs, and get NOTHING, and in some cases even losing spots, for beating SMCC! SMCC is losing enrollment every year, and thinking they may "come back" is ridiculous! As someone posted in the other article about this, playing freshmen against seniors is a recipe for some serious injuries.

Get them out of the SBC into a league they can compete in, or do away with football. It's NOT FAIR to the other schools in the SBC. Think of them too.

real talk

It wont be long before SMCC fails to be able to operate at all.

the office cat

There is an option to 'running up the score'. Wonder of wonders it was Bellevue coach Nasonti a coupla weeks ago who used the 'mercy rule'. Leading 62-0 at half, the two coaches agreed to play two 8-minute quarters without stopping the clock except for injuries. Have Mercy! Nasonti being merciful?
As for Clyde. In 1992 the Fliers won their FIRST SBC title in 20 YEARS...after years of losing routinely to SMCC, SJCC Margaretta and others. They were undefeated in '93 - but didn't make the playoffs...but started a run that finished 43-5 and collected a runnerup (94)and championship (95)state titles.
Have you considered.... being one of only two (big) Div III schools in the SBC makes getting to the playoffs more difficult for the Fliers who have to win big in the 'preseason' (not this year) and beat Perkins to get there.


office cat,

Just to clarify. The referees ask Mr. Nasonti about reducing the time. He said no. The athletic director over rode him and made the change.

Was this offered made to St. Mary's? Would they have agreed?

Get me those answers before throwing Clyde under the bus.

the office cat

Why should other schools take a knee the entire second half? Sure, it might give some underclassmen more playing time but the seniors and junior have a right to set records and try to build their 'resumes'. Other parochial (not only Catholic) face the reality that dwindling enrollment is hurting more places than on the gridiron. Or maybe it's not as important as 'football heroes' from the past trying to live vicariously through their kids think it is...?


Shut it down!


For true competitors it is more of an insult have a team take a knee or run out of bounds when a TD could have easily scored so as not to run up the score. Take your lumps or find another conference. It is interesting how the pigeons have come back to roost, however. I'm not for shutting it down unless there is no other alternative and that is not just the nostalgic in me. I believe Sandusky needs a Catholic education presence and while it saddens me to see the school fall on hard times part of the damage has been self-inflicted.


The kids at St. Mary's have a choice. They have the option to attend their local public school or any other public school with open enrollment.

When times were good St. Mary's showed no mercy on their opponents. Did their wrestling team take a knee when they pounded other SBC teams into submission?

Freshman and sophomore boys are not mature physically as juniors and seniors. Young men will get hurt. More boys will decide not to take the beating. The end is a couple years away at best.


all the comments about running upg the score must not have been at the game Clyde had every kid in the game the #7 running back with the #3 LINE were not stop.Clyde was not going to start taking a knee in the 2qt. I give all the smcc players my RESCEPT for sticking it out


I am close to some SMCC football parents and I didn't hear any of them complain about a score being "run up". The comment about a kid playing 10 qtr's is very hard to believe as the SCCS administration is all Ohio in complying with OHSAA rules for fear of parents at local public schools complaining. I thought the article was well written and explained a problem creating low numbers on the SCCS football team. All kids should have a chance to work hard, compete and have that hard work lead to success whether it is in band, cheerleading or sports. It is difficult to compete vs very good football teams that have 4-5 times as many athletes to choose from. A physically demanding sport from a speed/size issue like football emphasizes this problem. SCCS does well in many SBC sports and can compete with the bigger schools (competing doesn't always = winning). The chance for success for the SCCS football program was evident last year....if they would have played a D5/D6 schedule the team would have had a good chance of making the playoffs...instead they won 2 games. One of those games was against a team with a few key injuries and a major tool as a bad that wasn't necessary but I couldn't resist.

It is great to see other local HS's experiencing success on the football field as seeing hard work lead to success is a great life lesson. I always cheer for local schools, it does seem many do not feel the same of the local Catholic School. I'm no Dr Phil and have no desire to explore the reason for this. Having a school producing excellent results in developing kids and preparing them for college and life is a positive for any community. We have great choices for schools in Erie County and SCCS is doing a great job at developing productive kids after HS. I'm sure the football program will recover and be able to compete in the future. As the article stated enrollment has stabilized... and the positives of the school should attract more kids in the near future.

Coach Wikel is doing an excellent job with the kids at SCCS!

The New World Czar

I have an open question to all out here regarding the St. Mary's in much longer can they stay open as a whole with the struggling enrollment and have they ever explored merging w/ Norwalk or Fremont catholic schools? Not meant as a slam on the school, just asking. Lorain Catholic HS closed a number of years ago under similar dire conditions.



The school is in the process of raising millions of dollars of endowment to help stabilize the shrinking money supply. I don't have the information on where that stands.

They have closed buildings, combined facilities and changed the leaders at the top to stop the decline.

Two factors have pushed St. Mary's to the brink. The poor economy and open enrollment in surrounding public school systems.

In regards to the economy, their investments are not generating the returns of the past and local families do not have the discretionary income to pay for a private school.

In regards to open enrollment, St. Mary's is losing students to Perkins, Huron and other districts. Previously, your only option was Sandusky City Schools and that forced kids to St. Mary's. That situation is no longer there with open enrollment.

I believe those in charge at St. Mary's have drawn a line in the sand and said we can't drop back any farther. The next couple of years will be the deciding factor.

Good luck to those fighting the good fight.


While I would hate to see the school close, I don't think it'll come to that. From what I've heard and read, elementary school school enrollment is up. The administration needs to fidn a way to retain those students through high school graduation.
As for football, I don't think changing leagues is the be-all answer. You have to think beyond football. SMCC competes just fine with the other schools in the league in other sports, girls sports included. They may not be the most consistent, but they do still produce winning records. It would be sad to see the school discontinue the football program, but where I live now in southern Ohio, that's pretty common. Not all school districts down here have the bodies nor money to fuel a football team. I would rather see that happen though then the whole school to close. (Even if it came down to closing something, I can see them closing the high school, but leaving the elementary school open).