Sonny Fulks
Sonny Fulks
Managing Editor

Sonny Fulks is a graduate of Ohio State University where he pitched four varsity seasons for the Buckeyes from 1971 through 1974. He furthered his baseball experience as a minor league umpire for seven seasons, working for the Florida State League (A), the Southern League (AA), and the American Association (AAA). He has written for numerous websites, and for the past fourteen years has served as columnist and photo editor for The Gettysburg Magazine, published by the University of Nebraska Press, in Lincoln Nebraska. His interests include history, support for amateur baseball, the outdoors, and he has a music degree from Ohio State University.


Friday’s area games gave a glimpse of one possible failing in the OHSAA competitive balance agenda. There may be too many miles, and not enough players, between what we have now…and what some seek!

“Meet me at a place called The Korner,” a long-time friend from downstate said to me early last Friday morning. “We’ll catch up on things and talk about the game (Marion Local and CJ).”

‘The Korner’ is a watering hole and cafe smack dab across the street from Marion Local’s Booster field in Maria Stein, Ohio; and hours later talk about the game that was to be played two hours hence turned quickly into the subject of the competitive balance plan implemented for football by the OHSAA in 2017.

Marion Local vs. Chamindade-Julienne, with or without any possible intention, would come pretty close to one of the original tenents of the OHSAA plan of making teams of great winning tradition simply play tougher competition in order to compete for a state championship.

Marion is the reigning Division VI champion in football, a program that’s won nine of those titles since Tim Goodwin took over as head coach in prior in 1999, and five of the past six.

And CJ is a Division III team this year, under Marcus Colvin, with a winning tradition of its own, having won titles in basketball and football previously, but no football titles since the 2002 season.

“These two teams played last year and Marion put it on ‘em pretty good,” said Russ Massey, accompanied by his brother James. The Masseys often travel the state of Ohio on weekends just to watch the best football teams play their way to the OHSAA championship tournament in Massillon (this year), come December.

“Chamindade’s supposed to be bigger, urban, and tougher,” said Massey. “They’re III and Marion’s VI. What about competitive balance?” he grinned.

“Last year’s game was played in sweltering heat,” I hedged, remembering. “I think this year’s game will be much closer. CJ might win. They’ve got a good quarterback and a lot of speed.”

And in fact, I had predicted they “might” in the ‘predicition page’ published on this website earlier in the day.

“Tell you what I think,” he offered, cranking the top off a fresh beverage. “You have to travel a lot farther, or play schools a lot bigger than CJ, to find someone that would compete with Marion in Division VI. You might be surprised tonight.”

And in fact, I was. Not that Marion ultimately won the game 35-7, but by the ease in which they did it. Russ Massey’s words stuck in my mind well after we parted and he headed back downstate to the Ohio River. For the sake of true “competitive” balance, you might have to play someone much bigger or a lot farther away if you want to find competition for Marion Local.

And for the sake of travel Marion does travel a good distance on week 2 to play non-conference opponent Patrick Henry, who the Flyers beat last fall in the state semi-final round. After Patrick Henry they settle back into then not-so-friendly routine of knocking heads with the likes of Coldwater, St. Henry, Minster, St. John, Versailles, Anna and Ft. Recovery, the ‘traditional’ heavys of the MAC.

Coldwater, by the way, beat traditional opening opponent Kenton Friday, 35-28, and makes a pretty good trip of its own this week, to Clinton County, to take on past Division IV champ Clinton-Massie (no relation to Russ Massey).

It took three tries (and a missed tackle) for Canton Central Catholic to finally beat Coldwater 2016 for the Div. V championship.

It took three tries for Canton Central Catholic to finally beat Coldwater 2016 for the Div. V championship.

But to Massey’s point: There is relevance to his contention that there comes a point where there simply is no competitive balance in the small-school football for teams like Coldwater and Marion Local, given that historically there are no local Division V, VI, or VII teams outside of the MAC with the history to compete with them…or, those teams are simply too far away during the regular season to make make it worthwhile.

And he’s correct in saying that it’s not worth the financial outlay to drive school buses to Canton and Cuyahoga Heights – to Kirtland and Mogadore – during the regular season on a regular basis to find better football competition.  If you can find it?

“There’s only so many competitive small schools around anymore because of consolidation and redistricting, even at the state tournament,” Massey explained. “There are some pretty good football programs down in our area, but Glouster and Wheelersburg can’t afford to travel up here, and Wheelersburg’s played Coldwater before in the tournament and lost. And Glouster played Marion in the finals a few years ago and lost bad.”

“So no, there is no solution to competitive balance in Divisions V, VI, or VII and the fact of tradition. Marion Local and Coldwater are good because of their coaching and the competitive values in their community,” he added. “That’s never going to change as long as they have those same factors in place. You’d have to have a whole lot more kids to choose from, athletically, to make a difference. And that comes from the inner cities or much bigger communities.”

Which means, locally, that Marion and Coldwater would have to play the Sidneys, Piquas, and Troys, all Division II and III schools in football, or go to Dayton, to find competitive balance; and that’s not likely to happen.

“There would be no incentive for us to play Marion,” Troy athletic director Dave Palmer has explained before. “There’s not enough to gain if you win, and there’s too much to lose (computer rankings) if you lose.”

And to the one curious change in the local competitive balance picture this year, Coldwater has been moved down from Division V to VI, where Marion resides, while Covington has been moved up from VII to VI, making the region (24) murderously top-heavy because it includes other schools like St. Henry and Mechanicsburg.

Meanwhile, in the old Division VII region 28, only Delphos St. John and Minster remain to bang it out with the likes of Riverside, New Bremen, Gamble Montesori, and Hillcrest Academy…all winners in week 1.

Sonny_thumb0216“The rich got richer,” concluded Massey. “And what are the chances they moved Coldwater and Marion together to prevent three MAC teams (with Minster) from going to Massillon and winning three of the state’s seven divisions again, like they did in 2014? Conspiracy? Trust it, people are talking about it.”

“But better than talking about building ‘the wall’,” I sighed, getting up to make my way across route 119 to Booster Stadium.

“You’ll see that wall before you’ll see true competitive balance across the board,” said Massey, with a wave.

And with that…another season!