The Ohio Heritage Conference will expand to 10 teams following the inclusion of Madison Plains and Fairbanks high schools.
The expansion was unanimously approved by conference members and announced Thursday. It’ll mark the first change since the OHC debuted in 2001.
The OHC hopes to add the schools for all boys and girls sports by the fall of 2016. Officials did not address if the conference would split into two divisions.
OHC officials mentioned they were being “proactive” to ensure the long-term stability of the small-school conference. Increased athletic attendance, a better balance of “under-represented” sports and shorter travel distance between schools were cited as expansion benefits.
What wasn’t addressed was the impending effect of the neighboring Central Buckeye Conference, which will lose Tippecanoe and Stebbins to the Greater Western Ohio Conference also in 2016. CBC officials reportedly have been unsuccessful in luring two current OHC members to replace those losses or merging the two conferences.
The OHC includes three teams each from Clark County (Catholic Central, Northeastern and Southeastern) and Champaign County (Mechanicsburg, Triad and West Liberty Salem) and two from Green County (Cedarville and Greeneview). All are Southwest District teams.
Madison Plains (London) and Fairbanks (Milford Center) are public schools and are anchored in the Columbus-based Central District. Madison Plains is located in Madison County and Fairbanks in Union County.
Both also will leave their current conferences after just three school years. Plains joined the Ohio Division of the 22-team Mid-State League in 2013. Fairbanks became a Red Division member of the 16-team Mid-Ohio Athletic Conference also in 2013.
Neither newcomer is a football power. Fairbanks has qualified for the playoffs four times, the last in 2007, but is coming off a 1-9 season. Madison Plains, 5-5 last season, has never advanced to the postseason. The OHC is represented in Divisions V-VII in football. Both new teams were ranked D-VI, Region 22 for football last season.
The OHC also hopes to eventually add two more schools for a total of 12 members.