Stability and change. That was the sentiment Thursday morning at Willard High School, as school officials made an official announcement in regards to its future as a member of the Northern Ohio League.
"We had a meeting (Wednesday) with all the superintendents and athletic directors in the league, and point blank they were asking us if we were staying," Willard athletic director Dave Ball said. "They wanted to know if we were committed, and we're proud to be members of this league and are fully committed."
Speculation began about Willard's NOL future a month ago when it attended a Sept. 15 meeting of North Central Conference administrators along with Loudonville, expressing possible interest in joining the NCC.
"We did discuss with the NCC the possibilities of entertaining a chance to go there," Willard superintendent Dave Danhoff said. "We really enjoyed our discussions with them and think they have a great conference, but we really never officially received an invitation. Was it coming? It could have been. But we felt at this time we had to make a decision about our future here, and we are committed to the Northern Ohio League, and that needs to be known."
This is our best fit. We want to put an end to the speculation and we are here to say."
With the league at six schools following the departure of Fostoria, Galion and Upper Sandusky along with the addition of Sandusky, Danhoff said school officials felt they needed to at least see what was out there.
"We thought it was in our best interest to throw some feelers out to see what was out there," he said. "That's the only reason we went to the NCC to see if we could talk to them. But we couldn't wait any longer. The NOL wanted to know what Willard was going to do."
Danhoff acknowledged questions as to why Willard felt the need to schedule a conference only to say they weren't going anywhere.
"We just felt we had to bring this to a head as far as all the speculation that was out there," he said. "We owed it to our people in our community and to the Northern Ohio League. We're excited to stay. It's where the Willard Crimson Flashes belong and we're a proud charter member that goes back to 1944.
"It's bigger than all of us. That's a big part of why we're staying, we feel we belong with that tradition that has been a big part of the Northern Ohio League and a big part of who we are."
Seventh member on the way?
In light of Willard's announcement, speculation continues to swirl the league is going to gain a seventh member, potentially another area school: Vermilion.
"We believe there is going to be some expansion here in the near future, but we are not at liberty to say," Danhoff said. "But I think it's going to happen fairly soon. That's information that's not ready to come out yet."
Meanwhile, AM-930 WEOL's Jim Allen, who has been involved in Lorain County sports for 41 years, reported on his show Thursday morning that Vermilion was NOL bound. However, multiple league officials did not comment on the report that the Sailors were set to join the league as soon as the 2012-13 school year.
"We're working really hard to track some schools to come into the NOL, but we cannot speculate on that right now," said Danhoff. "I can assure you there is movement, and it's positive movement."
With enrollment at Vermilion falling while the rest of the West Shore Conference keeps growing, it's been speculated the Sailors were looking to find a more competitive league from a size advantage. Another possible concern is current WSC members Avon, North Ridgeville and Rocky River have looked around other conferences themselves.
Allen also reported there could be a scenario where a 7-team NOL and a 7-team WSC reach a scheduling agreement for non-conference games.
Ball acknowledged that league schools have not yet begun scheduling Week 4 and 5 games for the 2013 season. He added that any type of an announcement will come through NOL associate commissioner Jim Yeager or president Gordon Moore, the principal at Bellevue.
"We're not going to release any info from a singular school," he said. "Anything about the future will come from Gordon or Jim representing the league as a whole."