JACKSON - Those who had written the final chapter regarding the Southeastern Ohio Athletic League's demise underestimated those who are determined to keep one of the state's oldest and most prestigious athletic conferences very much alive.
SEOAL superintendents, principals and athletic directors met Wednesday morning in Jackson to make a final determination about the league's future, which was teetering due to declining membership.
The meeting produced results. The SEOAL, and its great tradition, will continue... even if its membership consists of only four schools.
Administrators representing Gallia Academy, Jackson, Logan and Warren high schools made commitments to not only remain together, but to actively seek additional members... even if it's just one more member to make a five-school conference.
Superintendents Roger Mace of Gallipolis City Schools, Phil Howard of Jackson City Schools and Steve Stirn of Logan-Hocking Local Schools were in attendance. While superintendent Kyle Newton of Warren Local Schools was unable to attend, he sent Warren's representatives to the meeting with his full support.
Wednesday's Board of Control meeting was quickly assembled after the four schools had met with - and were quickly turned down by - the Tri-Valley Conference Board of Control the previous Wednesday regarding possible membership in that league.
In January, the four SEOAL schools had sent a letter to TVC officials to either join the conference together as a bloc, or to merge the two leagues. The TVC responded that its by-laws stated schools had to apply for membership individually.
After hearing the four SEOAL schools individually discuss their schools and athletic programs, the TVC made a blanket vote against expanding the league and thus, by taking expansion off the table, turned down the SEOAL schools by a 12-3 margin (River Valley, which becomes the league's 16th member next school year, was not eligible to vote).
Gallipolis, Jackson, Logan and Warren - who will be the only members remaining after Portsmouth leaves the conference following the 2014-15 school year - had either sought, or had been approached about, possible membership in other conferences.
With the TVC episode behind them, however, all four schools decided Wednesday that they would much rather stay together and that they would discontinue pursuit of membership in any other conference, putting those rumors to rest.
Representatives from all four schools revealed they had checked into membership with other conferences because they were worried membership would drop under four and the league would cease to exist, forcing one, two or three schools to play independent schedules.
Gallia Academy was the key to keeping the SEOAL together.
GAHS representatives had made plans to attend a meeting next month with the Ohio Valley Conference, based primarily in Lawrence County, to possibly become its eighth member.
However, after Jackson, Logan and Warren representatives informed GAHS administrators that they would firmly remain in the league if Gallipolis would, Mace briefly left the meeting room to make a call on his cell phone.
Upon his return, Mace informed the other school administrators that "Gallia Academy High School is 100 percent" remaining with the SEOAL. He further stated GAHS would inform the OVC that it would not be attending next month's meeting.
While it was long thought that GAHS had a standing offer to become the OVC's eighth member, Mace noted that it was not until last Thursday - the day after Gallipolis, Jackson, Logan and Warren were turned down by the TVC - that they began to consider actually contacting the OVC about making the move.
However, when the SEOAL quickly scheduled Wednesday's BOC meeting - and included the superintendents to discuss the four schools resolving to stay together - any decision regarding the OVC was put on hold just as quickly.
"We wanted to listen to what the OVC had to say," Mace said, "but we also know the sentiments of where the (Gallipolis) community wants to be," that being to remain in the SEOAL.
While all four schools know that scheduling many non-conference events will be tough, the decision to show solidarity within the SEOAL borders came down to the one entity that it was all about in the first place: each school's student-athletes.
"It is important for our athletes to have league games and league championships to play for," said Howard.
Upon unanimously agreeing to continue as (at least) a four-school league, the superintendents - who have final say when it comes to conference membership - also had a letter of resolution drafted.
That letter, in part, reads as follows:
"On March 19, 2014, Gallia Academy, Jackson, Logan and Warren high schools reaffirmed their membership in the Southeastern Ohio Athletic League, the oldest non-city high school athletic conference in Ohio.
"We, as superintendents of Gallia Academy, Jackson, Logan and Warren high schools, henceforth wish to make clear that we are not looking to leave the SEOAL to join another league.
"We are remaining together and, in fact, we are reaching out to expand our league to other area schools who would like to join us.
"By attaching our signatures to this letter, we assure any and all potential incoming schools that we will stay together and that we welcome new SEOAL membership.
"The SEOAL has a rich history, and we aim to see that it continues. The 2014-15 school year will be the SEOAL's 90th, and it is our goal to not only see it reach 100 years of existence but to take it well beyond into another century."
With the four schools thus having resolved to remain together, they will actively pursue finding one or two schools to join them... but if that does not succeed, they are fully committed to remain as one in a four-team conference.
Gallia Academy, Jackson and Logan were among the eight original members when the SEOAL was formed in 1925, and Warren joined the league prior to the 1986-87 school year.
While membership has fluctuated between five and 10 schools since 1925, it has never been down to four... the fewest number of schools to have a viable league.
But four- or five-school leagues and divisions can survive.
There are several five-school leagues throughout the state as well as some conferences that are divided into five-team divisions, with crossover games filling out the bye spots. Four-school leagues do exist, and in football the five-school Central Catholic League in Columbus actually has three teams in one division and two in the other.