Sonny Fulks
Sonny Fulks
Managing Editor

Sonny Fulks is a graduate of Ohio State University and pitched four varsity seasons for the Buckeye baseball team from 1971 through 1974.  He furthered his baseball experience as a minor league league umpire for seven years, working in the Florida State League (A), the Southern League (AA), and the American Association (AAA).  He has written for numerous websites and outdoor publications, and for the past ten years has served as a regular columnist and photo editor for Gettysburg Magazine, published by the University of Nebraska Press.  Widely knowledgeable on that period of American History, Fulks is a frequent speaker on the Civil War at local roundtables throughout the Midwest. He and wife Mindy have two grown children and live in Covington, Ohio.

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Add Tipp and drop Trotwood.  It was the long-overdue tweak that added competitive interest, more rivalry, and more butts in the seats for the GWOC North, starting in 2016!

(Ed. Note:  This column was originally published a year ago this week, and portends an interesting view now of a prediction come true.  With last year’s realignment of the GWOC North Tipp was competitive with its new I-75 rivals and interest suddenly sparked as more people paid attention.  To prove that, PPM readership for GWOC football alone was up a whopping 300% over previous year.  One of those ‘I told you so scenarios’, a look back and a look forward to another, more anticipated year of football along I-75.)

Sitting in Tipp’s Green Fire Bistro this time last year (a great local eatery if you haven’t been there), a long-time follower of this site from Tipp came up and asked, “I read the article on Joel Derge and the Red Devils this week.  Will you be doing more Tipp games this year with the new conference?”

“Well,”  I responded.  “We’ll see.”

Translation:  The fact of coverage of any particular team in today’s world of competitive journalism is a numbers game.  Good teams and good games make for readership;  and the name of the game is…readership!

“I hope so,”  he added.  “It’s about time.  We’ll see how it goes.”

I know what he meant when he said “we’ll see how it goes.”  But what intrigued me most was the phrase…”It’s about time.”

I’ll not mince words.  I’ve never been a fan of the GWOC since the days of its inception and the ill-fated words of school administrators and conference officials who promised competitive scheduling, competitive interest, competitive rivalries, and competitive attendance.  Some of that came to fruition;  most of it didn’t.

The league, with its crossover games became too far flung and the travel never made sense, particularly on week nights and for non-revenue sports.  When gas was $3.50 a gallon people simply stayed home when Sidney played at Xenia, and vice versa.  More than one probably muttered, “Whiskey, tango, foxtrot (or a variation)” when Piqua passed one school after another on the interstate to play in a half-empty stadium at Lebanon.

Troy used its resources and new-found swagger to overwhelm the rest of the GWOC North.

Troy used its resources and new-found swagger to overwhelm the rest of the GWOC North.

And for the fact of attendance, I’ve been to games in Troy and Piqua when almost no one showed up from Trotwood, or Xenia…and even Wayne.

For the fact of rivalries, that never changed from earlier days of Greater Miami Valley League, and even the old (really old) MVL, when people packed in to see Troy play Piqua and Piqua play Sidney.

But with last year’s announcement of realignment more sense, as well as cents, and sensibility finally came to the GWOC North (they call it the American North now to add some patriotism, I guess).  If you didn’t notice the division consisted of Tipp City, Troy, Piqua, Sidney, Butler and Greenville.  Five teams…Butler, Tipp, Troy, Piqua, and Sidney within 25 miles of each other in a straight line up and down I-75…and Greenville.

So yes, it was about time, and it did make for rivalries, athletic and otherwise, that made for more interesting games and journalism, with or without good football.  And for that matter, the football was good, better, and in Troy’s case…best!

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The Trojans, in the second year of rebuilding its legacy under the Burgbachers, head coach Matt and assistant coach Charlie, ran out to a 9-1 regular season record and lasted two games deep into the post-season.

Piqua finished a strong 7-3, despite massive injuries to key personnel, and somehow didn’t make the playoffs as a result of the Dayton Dunbar/City League embarrassment.  How that should have penalized Piqua is anyone’s guess.

Quarterback Andre Gordon makes Sidney a must-see opponent when the Jackets come to town.

Quarterback Andre Gordon makes Sidney a must-see opponent when the Jackets come to town.  (Photo by Julie McMaken Wright)

Sidney seemed well fortified with Andre Gordon at quarterback and Isaiah Bowser at tailback.  But Gordon broke his wrist early, his backup immediately got hurt filling in, and there just wasn’t enough Bowser (although he led the GWOC in rushing) to compensate for missing people and inexperienced line play.

Tipp held its own with its time-consuming run game and the competitive ‘MO’ of coach Joel Derge.

And Greenville, who’s always anybody’s guess, had athletes and that oft-uttered reputation of having enough to beat someone unexpecting on any given night.

This alignment makes sense geographically, certainly, because none of the six schools are more than a half hour’s drive apart, depending on route and traffic.  Most actually traveled to away games, while most crossover games with the central and southern divisions were still a letdown at the box office.

With the exception of Tipp and Greenville, the division also boasts the best football facilities imaginable.  Butler, Piqua and Sidney have field turf playing surfaces and Troy’s Memorial Stadium, though aged, is incomparable after its renovation a few years ago.  Greenville and Tipp could use a similar makeover and Tipp will soon have theirs.  Both have over-used natural surfaces and poor lighting;  and you pray for cold weather to come early in Tipp because the mosquitoes at City Park Field are big enough to fly while carrying a six-pack of Coke.  Can you say…Zika?

But the interest in GWOC North football in 2016 was UP, UP, UP…because teams were close, and there was interest.  People actually knew people in the other communities, and each of the six schools have great competitive traditions.  There were plenty of good games to see without driving to, or through, Dayton…and home comfortably in time for the 11 o’clock news.

“Bunkers” is proud to sponsor coverage of the 2016 Buckeyes baseball on Pros Magazine.com.

“Bunkers” is proud to sponsor coverage of the GWOC on Press Pros Magazine.com

The question now is what’s the next step?  The Burgbachers promise at least some reprise of their 2016 success, the program stocked with good young talent and eager to built upon their new winning template.

At Tipp, all you hear from Joel Derge is “can do”.  If anyone doubted the Devils’ ability to stand toe to toe with the likes of Butler, Piqua, Sidney and Troy…well, they beat Butler and Sidney last year, they beat Piqua two years ago in the playoffs, and a steady diet of better teams only makes you better if that’s your intent.

As we said, the readership of games featured on Press Pros showed head-shaking increase, because for the first time the three Miami County schools actually paid attention to what each other was doing…because they were destined to play each other.  In Sidney’s case, scheduling made it much easier for us to see the Jackets…five times in 2016!

Sonny_thumb0216If all this feels like a case of ‘back to the future’, it should.  It was reminiscent of the days of the old Miami Valley League when Friday nights were actually special;  when the games were special, even when Lima Shawnee and Bellefontaine (two more horrible drives) were league members.  Those teams had great football but they were so far away no one bothered to travel from Allen and Logan counties…and gas was only 42 cents a gallon back then.  Now for the sake of local interest, it’s tough for many accustomed to staying home on Friday nights.

Do you watch Hell’s Kitchen on Fox network, or the Red Devils themselves against Troy?

Sean Hannity defending Trump, or Sidney and Piqua?

Use your own sense and sensibility.  This was a no-brainer for the sake of good football, and the people who came out to watch.

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