By Gary R. Rasberry
The Midwest Athletic Conference approved Anna High School to join the conference for football only effective the 2006 fall sports season for all levels, ending several weeks of speculation.
The inclusion of Anna, located in Shelby County, would give the 31-year old conference 10 teams playing football, allowing an even amount of games to be played each week. The total conference number is now at 11 with New Knoxville not fielding a football team.
"There's several points to look at," said MAC commissioner Tim Buschur. "Type of town, quality of facility. There are some natural rivalries you can build up there. It has a lot of the things the current MAC schools have. I think (Anna) has the same expectations the other MAC schools have -- they want success. For the kids and the fans, they'll have a neat opportunity with the atmosphere. I'm sure they'll see that it's a little bit different in a good way.
"It didn't happen overnight, a lot of people think it did. When I first took over (as commisioner) there was talk about what would happen down the road," added Buschur.
Anna's football team is already familiar with some MAC teams. Since going to a full varsity schedule in 2000, the Rockets have opened the football season with New Bremen. "It's an up-and-coming program," said New Bremen athletic director Burt Fiser. "The numbers they have are good. Anna has had good athletic programs and (football) has built itself into one of those programs."
With Anna's primary conference, the Shelby County League, not fielding a football schedule with just two teams -- Fort Loramie being the other -- having programs, the Rockets have played in the Cross County Conference, posting a successful record since joining the conference.
This past season, the Rockets lost the season opener to New Bremen, then won the last nine games to make the playoffs, losing to Bishop Hartley in the first round. Since going to a full varsity schedule in 2000, the Rockets have made the state playoffs every season.
"They're a very competitive program, there's no doubt about that," said Coldwater athletic director Eric Goodwin. "For a Coldwater standpoint, we looked at everything. The distance involved (Coldwater is roughly 28 miles from Anna), the community Anna has, the level of competition."
The addition of Anna to the MAC will eliminate the floating bye week the nine football teams in the conference have had since the addition of Versailles in the 2001-02 school year. The search for a second non-conference game during the season has made for some unique matchups the past several seasons.
"It's not so bad for the first 2-3 weeks, but then you have weeks 4-5-6," said Buschur, who was the athletic director at both Fort Recovery and Coldwater. "Some think that it's easy. In basketball, you have a lot of dates to play with. In football, it's only 10. If you're a week six (bye week team), there's not a lot of week six openings. Schools don't want to play you either because they want computer points. It's not just computer points, it's level of play.
"When I was at Coldwater, we played Wheelersburg (down by the Ohio River). That was a great game. Coach (John) Reed loved playing them and fans loved it, but it was a haul. Anna is a lot closer than some of the bye week games."
Coldwater traveled to Indiana to play Fort Wayne Elmhurst two years ago for its mid-season bye week game and last year started a two-game series with Dublin Jerome that will end after the 2005 season.
"Every school had their own predicament they were in," said Goodwin. "Obviously, us and (St. John's) were probably worse off than the others because they had Lehman and LCC."
The need for a 10th football team to balance out the schedule was heightened when Lima Central Catholic, which had been a regular foe for MAC teams through the years, was accepted into the Northwest Conference, which balanced out the schedule for that conference.
While some schools -- especially those in the southern part of the MAC like Minster, New Bremen and Marion -- play Anna in other sports, other athletic directors are hoping that this is the beginning of a long-term relationship.
"It's a definite advantage," said Fiser of knowing the program and its athletic director Mike Muehfeld. "You've got a relationship there. You know who they are and know about their program, as compared to dealing with somebody who is a complete unknown."
Some schools that did not play Anna in other sports were not wasting time about expanding relations.
"I just got done printing a contract for freshman football next season," said Goodwin. "We're obviously very interested in playing them in other sports. I think it's important to have that camaraderie through the programs. It's like Parkway and us -- we may not have the big rivalry in football or basketball, but we are in baseball, and that carries over to the other sports. That's important to have in the relationship. Not just in football, but in everything."