YORK TWP. — What had been Medina County’s oldest continuing football rivalry will continue no more.
After rumors swirled that Buckeye wanted to end its series with Highland, Bucks athletic director Glen Reisner made it official last week, meaning next year the schools will not play each other for the first time since 1953.
The move was set in motion when Reisner elected to sign a two-year deal with Division IV school Elyria Catholic.
“It was a mutual agreement for what’s best for our programs,” Reisner said. “(Highland AD) Bo (Kuntz) and I talked about what we could do that was good for the kids and giving them the best competition (playoff) points-wise. They’re larger in size than we are.”
Though Buckeye renewed a two-year contract with D-II Cloverleaf — a school district 10 percent larger than Highland but also facing pay-to-play — Reisner said the decision was based purely on numbers.
Highland is one of the fastest-growing districts in Ohio, while Buckeye’s participation numbers continue to shrink thanks to a $400 pay-to-play fee.
The Division III Bucks feature just over 30 varsity players on their roster. The Hornets have nearly twice as many. According to the Ohio High School Athletic Association, Buckeye has 302 boys in grades 10-12 compared to Highland’s 404.
Buckeye is the largest school in the Patriot Athletic Conference, but Reisner said that did not factor into the decision.
Buckeye lost to Highland each of the past two seasons — and this year as well — and went on to win the PAC Stars Division, but barely missed the playoffs because of low Level I points, which are awarded based on a school’s division.
“If we win against teams like Highland, there’s a lot of points for us, but if Highland beats us they don’t get as many points as us,” Reisner said. “Do I like doing it? No. I played for Buckeye (in the early 1970s) and Highland’s always been one of the teams you want to play. We’re trying to do what’s best for our programs. It’s as simple as that.”
The Hornets have won the past three games by a combined score of 88-21, but hold only a 6-5 advantage since 1999 and a 33-22-2 edge overall.
Starting just seven years ago, the schools played three straight games decided by three points or less — Buckeye’s 17-15 victory in 2002 snapped Highland’s 11-game regular-season winning streak — and the Bucks actually lead the all-time series 22-18-1 if a 15-0-1 stretch by the Hornets from 1966-81 is thrown out.
But times are quickly changing and the schools will play a wait-and-see approach for the next two seasons. Both Reisner and Kuntz said the series could be picked up again depending on the state of the programs.
In the meantime, Buckeye will play the Panthers, who are 4-1 this season and on track for their fifth straight winning season. On the other hand, Kuntz said Highland coach Tom Lombardo will make the decision on who the Hornets will pick up.
“(Reisner) thought it would be better for us to find (another opponent),” Kuntz said. “Trust me, (we won’t find a) more competitive (opponent) because nose-to-nose they’re good competition for us. They just feel in the overall scheme of things, because of our growth, they wanted to move forward.”
The series dates back to when York and Liverpool (Valley City) consolidated to form Buckeye in 1953. Highland was officially formed a year earlier. Nearly 35 percent of the 57 meetings were decided by eight points or less.
The game was actually slated to end after the 2003 season when Buckeye was expected to drop its athletic program. However, the Bucks saved the program at the last minute and Highland dropped an already-scheduled contest to make room.
Players of the rivalry had mixed emotions at best.
Current Bucks tackle Kelton Keller said the following earlier this season: “I hate Highland so much. I’ve always hated Highland.”
Current Hornets linebacker Tyler Phillips echoed those thoughts, saying Buckeye was the most physical opponent he has ever faced.
Former Highland running back and All-Gazette choice Joe Gulick, who started in both the ’03 and ’04 heart-stoppers, said the decision was ridiculous.
“We had many games against Buckeye that were nail-biters,” said Gulick, who noted the bad blood and trash talk between the schools. “If they really wanted to get better, they would want to play the big schools. … Maybe they should re-evaluate their priorities.
“For years, Highland has been the smallest school in the Suburban League. We have not complained, but found ways to be competitive and to win games.”
On the other hand, former Bucks standout wide receiver/cornerback and 2002 Gazette MVP Darren Cereshko understood the decision.
“The overall (roster) size has decreased dramatically, as well as the size of the players excluding a few here and there,” he said. “My only concern — and I think I can speak for many of my teammates from the 02-03 seasons — is that there aren’t too many teams in the PAC that are going to give Buckeye computer points for the playoffs.”
Regardless of the varying opinions, fans will have to wait until 2012 to see if Buckeye and Highland will continue to go their separate ways.
Contact Albert Grindle at (330) 721-4043 or firstname.lastname@example.org.