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The sun sets on the MAL

After 27 years, the Midland?Athletic League enters its final season

August 30, 2013
dsp By Zach Baker - Sports Editor (zbaker@advertiser-tribune.com) , The Advertiser-Tribune

In 2009, the big story was that the Midland Athletic League was adding a school, Lakota.

Two years ago, as schools played a game of hop-scotch from the Northern Ohio League to the North Central Conference, or the NOL to the Northern Buckeye Conference, the MAL appeared completely unaffected.

And now, the MAL is awaiting a figurative wrecking ball.

The league, which has been a perfect fit for many area fans (and as you'll read later, many football coaches) will dissolve after this school year.

It was, in many ways, a perfect fit for this region, especially during football season. But this fall will be the last time - at least for a while - that Mohawk and Calvert will play on the gridiron in a league game.

Or Carey and St. Joe.

Or Seneca East and Hopewell-Loudon.

Calvert and Hopewell-Loudon, separated by about a 10-minute drive, will no longer be conference rivals. Instead, each will face new league foes when H-L jumps (with North Baltimore) to the Blanchard Valley Conference, and Calvert goes in the other direction, to the Toledo Area Athletic Conference.

Meanwhile, Carey, Mohawk and Seneca East will jump to the new Northern 10 Athletic Conference. The remaining members (save Bettsville) of the MAL will find refuge in the new Sandusky River League - a conference Calvert helped found, only to leave soon after.

What was once one league has splintered into several.

So what's left of MAL football?

A sentimental soul might say all we have is memories, but that's not true.

What's left, what is perhaps most important, is one more season.

A community league

Even though Brian Colatruglio now plies his trade in the NOL as Columbian's football coach, his past is filled with MAL experience.

Colatruglio played football for Calvert, then was an assistant there.

After a stint as head coach at Van Buren, Colatruglio returned to the league, coaching Hopewell-Loudon. It was there that he found major success. Not only were the Chieftains a perennial playoff team, but they advanced to two Division VI state title games.

Colatruglio said he has good memories, starting with his time as an athlete.

"As a player I grew up competing," he said. "Back then, St. Joe, St. Wendelin were the teams to beat.

"The kids all knew each other; there were some really good rivalries," he said. "It's unfortunate all these teams are gonna be driving all over the place."

Seneca East football coach Ed Phillips said it's not just the players who are familiar with each other.

"It's a little bit of a sad year, because I feel like I know all the coaches and the ADs around and developed a good relationship with them," he said. "It's going to be different to go somewhere else and play other people. And it's the same way with the kids. They have that familiarity. They look forward to going to Bascom and playing. They look forward to going to Tiffin and Mohawk. They look forward to playing Fremont, because those are the kids that they've seen in three sports for their whole career. So it's definitely going to be a change."

The league started in 1985-'86 for that year's basketball season. Carey and Mohawk joined the league in 1990. Since about that time, Jeff Garber has been the official stat keeper for the league.

"You look at Mohawk and Carey, when they joined the league it only made it that much tougher," Garber said.

From that, rivalries have grown up between Mohawk and Calvert.

"Of course, Calvert-Mohawk was always a big one, even before (Mohawk) joined the MAL," Garber said.

Now it won't be a rivalry, at least in football. The Northern 10 Athletic Conference, as the name suggests, has 10 teams. All the teams will play each other, so that only leaves room for one non-conference game for N10 schools.

It's a game Mohawk coach Erik Baker will be sad to lose.

"Calvert will probably be the biggest thing we lose off the schedule," Baker said. "It'll be even more special this year, being the last time we play until somebody has an opening to allow it."

Rivals

All of the football coaches spoken to for this story said they were disappointed to see the league end.

Baker said it best, though.

"In a perfect world, we would have been able to take our everybody with us, and keep our football schedule," he said. "I love our football schedule. Some people have a rivalry game. I feel like we have one every week."

Calvert coach Todd Fox is in his fourth year. His introduction to the MAL came in his first days in charge of the Senecas.

"I guess the part about the MAL that I will miss the most is, when I first came here three years ago, I asked our guys, 'hey, who is our rival? Who is our biggest rival?' And if I asked six guys I got six different answers," he said. "Because, it seems like everybody's a rival."

That may be because of two reasons: The quality of the teams and the generally amicable relationships between the schools and coaches.

"As far as changing leagues, I'm not sure football was ever really part of it, as far as what motivated it," Baker said. "I think a lot of the change had to do with the other sports - basketball being able to play home and home and things that way. Football,I thought we had great games going, and the coaches got along. You can't say that in every league. There have been places that I've been in the past as an assistant, where it was almost bitter between people. The MAL keeps things in very good perspective and everybody treats each other really well, and the games are hotly contested. The kids for the most part do a great job of getting along and seeing each other. In these kind of communities, they all socialize together and made every game exciting, and make it seem like there's something on the line no matter what the records."

One more season

Few could have predicted it at the time, but the seeds of the MAL's end likely were planted two years ago, when the North Central Conference added Upper Sandusky and Galion and split into two divisions.

The league was barely through its first fall when numerous members from that league bolted for the N10. In December of 2011, Mohawk, Carey and SE announced they were joining that league.

It was, essentially, a few dominoes that set off a breakdown of numerous leagues.

Since then, the collapse of the MAL appeared inevitable, and most had to figure this season would be it for a league that has been around - in some form - for more than a quarter of a century.

So now the challenge is to be the last champion.

"Obviously you want to leave your mark," Fox said. "It's the last year. I'm sure every team in the MAL feels the same way. 'Hey, it's the last one. Let's be that (team) who wins the last one,' but that's our goal, to be on top at the end, but you've got to go one week at a time, because the MAL is a tough football league."

After that, things will be different.

Garber, for one, won't be keeping stats anymore.

"I'm gonna miss it," he said.

Still, there is a positive.

"I have a daughter who's a freshman now, getting into sports," he said. "I won't have to worry [about missing anything]. I guess it has its pluses and minuses."

Fox also put a realistic spin on it.

"First of all, we're disappointed, because the MAL, top to bottom, is a great football league," he said. "Great rivalries. The proximity, the driving, the crowds you get, it's just ... for football on a Friday night, it's gonna be hard to ever replace what we had here in the MAL. In that regard we're disappointed, but we have to move on, and everybody else did."

 
 

 

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