April 19, 2014

Medina
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Commentary: Colts did the right thing by choosing Portage Trail

The minority opinion isn’t the popular opinion, but Cloverleaf moving to the Portage Trail Conference is the right move. For sad reasons, but it’s the right move.

The Cloverleaf school board voted unanimously Monday to end what will be an 18-year partnership with the Suburban League and join the PTC in 2015-16. The Colts will replace Kent Roosevelt and face Coventry, Crestwood, Field, Norton, Ravenna and Springfield in the big-school Metro Division.

That Cloverleaf will be the largest school in the PTC shouldn’t matter because its athletic program has been so uncompetitive over the last decade-plus — save for the rare great team here and there — that it won’t walk right in and win titles.

But it begs the question: Why has Cloverleaf fallen this far? In just 15 short years, it has gone from being competitive in the defunct Pioneer Conference — while playing alongside huge Division I schools Medina, Brunswick and Strongsville, no less — to getting destroyed across the board in the not-nearly-as-good SL.

That’s another story for another day.

This is why the move to the PTC is warranted: Losing breeds losing far quicker than winning cures it. The time has come to start from the ground up — even if pride takes a serious, serious hit.

The facts: The Colts have never finished higher than fifth in the SL all-sports standings, and have less than 40 SL wins between 17 sports since the beginning of last school year. Seventeen of those are from volleyball and softball, which are still well below a .350 winning percentage over that span.

The 2012 fall season was a disaster in particular, as only volleyball won an SL game.

Meanwhile, the football team is riding a 14-game SL losing streak and the boys basketball team is 41-186 (.181) all-time in the SL and without a winning season, period, in 26 years, which is one less than the baseball team.

Let that sink in for a second. The truth hurts.

The bar has been set low due to $250 pay-to-play, of course, but also plummeting enrollment figures. Those figures continue to trend downward due to the financial instability of the district and the fact Cloverleaf is not geographically near the suburbs that have grown exponentially southwest of Cleveland.

The PTC offers the school a chance to be competitive again — someday — simply because the Colts won’t get drilled by Wadsworth, Green and Nordonia anymore.

Many claim the PTC is the Akron-area version of the Lorain County-heavy Patriot Athletic Conference that rarely strikes fear into opponents outside of softball. For proof, look no further than Buckeye’s hoards of Stars Division titles and limited postseason success.

This is true to an extent, but the PTC has been very, very strong in cross country and track and field and competitive in boys basketball, girls basketball, baseball and football, where it has had no less than three playoff qualifiers every season.

Norton was long the SL’s whipping boy before it joined the PTC in 2005 — the Panthers also single-handedly kept the Colts out of the SL all-sports cellar — yet has found respectability. It has won championships in boys soccer, girls soccer, boys basketball, girls basketball, baseball and boys tennis, with the girls basketball team considered an annual D-II district title contender.

As Cloverleaf’s enrollment figures continue to drop — the current sixth grade has 89 boys compared to 151 for the 2013 class — it will be more on par with the Metro Division’s total average of 831 students in grades 9-12. That’s a far cry from ranking 14th out of the new SL’s 16 schools.

Admittedly, a slight problem is the Colts will have increased travel costs. The six Metro Division schools are, on average, 35.3 miles from the corner of Friendsville Road and U.S. Route 224. That number for the future American Division of the SL is 30.3, but the math still comes out to one to two gallons of gas per trip. The difference can be made up by scheduling nearby schools like Highland, Norwayne, Northwestern, Buckeye and Rittman for non-league games.

The competitor in all of us wants to play the best and beat the best, and there’s still a possibility Cloverleaf athletics could take a step further backward because the level of competition drops. It was a real possibility when the Colts almost got into the PAC — that league’s principals nixed that move after the ADs approved — and it was a real possibility when Cloverleaf explored a Route 224-based league with Barberton, Orrville and Canal Fulton Northwest.

However, the reset button must be pressed to repress frustration.

It can only be hoped that the positive vibe will return to the passionate and friendly people of Lafayette, Chatham, Guilford, Westfield and Harrisville townships. There are fewer places more enjoyable to be than Cloverleaf when that’s the case.

Contact Albert Grindle at (330) 721-4043 or agrindle@medina-gazette.com.