There are many reasons for the unprecedented high school football success of the Midwest Athletic Conference, which features 10 small schools in Mercer, Darke and Auglaize counties.
The state football championships are this week
at Ohio Stadium in Columbus. MAC members Coldwater (Division V), Marion Local (D-VI) and Minster (D-VII) all will play for titles. No other conference in Ohio has ever had three members play for state championships in the same season; this is the MAC's third straight year to do that.
Among the reasons for the league’s success: The schools do not field boys soccer teams, meaning more boys try out for football; there are few youth football leagues in the region, so the players don’t start playing formally until junior high and are less likely to get burned out in grade school. And there are few — virtually none — transfers of students from one district to another.
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Coaches Chip Otten (Coldwater), Tim Goodwin (Marion Local) and Geron Stokes (Minster) concede their programs benefit from not having to deal with those issues.
“It’s a perfect storm up there,” said one veteran Dayton-area coach. “You’re not ruining kids (with football) when they’re little and burning them out and dealing with everything that’s wrong about the sport.”
Here’s what those three MAC coaches had to say about all that:
Q: Transfers are a hot-button issue in the Dayton area. Why don't we see it among MAC schools?
Stokes: The words "coach, teacher, mom and dad" are still really important in (players') lives. What they say, goes. It's a unique part of the world. (Players) don't take the train and run and seek out better situations. Kids don't even think about it.
Otten: Our kids aren't going to go to St. Henry and their kids aren't going to go here for any reason. Unless you're involved with that, you probably don't realize how important it is to the closeness with your team. Last year we had 22 seniors and 21 of them went to kindergarten together. … This year 16 of 17 seniors went to kindergarten together. (Transferring) is not an issue to us.
Goodwin: From the outside looking in, it looks like (transfers) are looking for a quick and easy fix instead of working out whatever issues are going on and dealing with it. That's a mindset. There's no way a kid is going to transfer from St. Henry to Marion (Local) or Coldwater. They would lose their friends and family and everything.
Q: Boys and girls soccer is extremely successful in the Dayton-metro area. Is not having soccer a MAC football advantage?
Stokes: That's a big, big, big help for football.
Otten: I don't know if we don't necessarily want it or don't like it. For the football programs, it's good that we don't have (soccer), but I wouldn't be opposed to it. If it means more kids could be (athletically) active, that's a good thing.
Goodwin: I'm sure over the years we've had kids who've stuck with football and as seniors they're a contributing member as a receiver or DB who may have went the other route (and played soccer). It's a simple fact of division. When you take something and divide it by two, something's got to give.
Q: It's often said MAC small towns exhibit a unique lifestyle. How do you know this?
When you drive up here through a town on a random Wednesday or Thursday night, you still see kids out playing backyard football or basketball or kickball. There's not a whole lot of disgruntled people. I'm looking at our school lockers right now and we don't have a lock on any of them in the entire school. That says a lot.
Otten: A lot of the kids go away (after graduating), but a lot of them come back when they marry and have kids because they like the school systems, the simplicity of things here. You don't have to deal with a lot of stuff. It's a good place to live. A lot of people couldn't handle it because it's not that exciting.
Goodwin: Our kids are kids. They don't worry about adult problems. Our parents and grandparents, they worry about the adult stuff and they support their kids.
Q: Peewee football typically is for grades K-6, full pads and contact. Delphos offers football for ages 8-12 and Parkway begins football in third grade. The other MAC schools offer flag football or weekly informal instruction during the fall. In contrast, most Dayton-metro schools are aligned with a youth football organization. How can it be so prevalent in this area but essentially a non-factor in MAC country?
Stokes: I have this debate all the time. I was at Urbana where peewee football was this big deal. I think you can get dads who are ego-maniacs who aren't teaching fundamentals the right way. There are so many more negatives than there are positives. It's unique. I'm not sure you could get away with (no peewee football) down (toward Dayton).
Otten: I grew up in Kettering and played in fourth, fifth and sixth grade and had a blast, but it seems like a lot of people don't. We have nine managers and those little guys are fifth- and sixth-graders. They drive me crazy but I want those guys close to us. We don't want to lose kids because they have a bad experience in fourth or fifth grade. It's almost like if it ain't broke, don't fix it. We haven't addressed (peewee football) because we haven't needed to.
Goodwin: It's an advantage not having it. Football is still special here. The kids know there's such a small window to play football. They grow up watching the whole Friday night experience and there's such great support and excitement, they can't wait to do it themselves. I don't think our people get caught up with everything that's going on. I think they're happy being Marion Local or Coldwater people. It's working (without peewee football) and that's the way it is.