This Times Bulletin file photo shows LCC’s Jonathan Washington carrying the ball in a game this past football season at Crestview. LCC announced its withdrawal from the Northwest Conference Thursday. (Times Bulletin/Tina Eley)
This Times Bulletin file photo shows LCC’s Jonathan Washington carrying the ball in a game this past football season at Crestview. LCC announced its withdrawal from the Northwest Conference Thursday. (Times Bulletin/Tina Eley)
By Charlie Warnimont

Times Bulletin Correspondent

sports@timesbulletin.com

LIMA - Citing concerns from fellow members of the Northwest Conference over an unfair competitive balance between Lima Central Catholic and the other nine member schools, LCC has submitted a request to withdraw from the NWC at the end of the 2012-13 school year.

The announcement was made Thursday afternoon at LCC in the Great Hall Room. NWC Commissioner Mike Mullen made the announcement with T-Bird coaches and representatives from the other NWC schools in attendance.

"The Northwest Conference is announcing today that in accordance with Article III, Section 2.4 of the NWC Constitution, Lima Central Catholic High School has submitted a request to withdraw from the Northwest Conference at the conclusion of the 2012-13 school year," Mullen quoted from a prepared statement. "The decision was reached after productive meetings between the principals and athletic directors of both LCC and all other NWC schools. After being approached by certain conference members expressing concerns about competitive balance in the NWC, LCC felt it was in the best interests of all to initiate discussions to address these issues. After it became clear the conference as a whole shared the competitive balance concerns, all parties worked together to craft an exit plan that serves the interest of both LCC and the conference."

Under their plan LCC will be a conference member through the next school year, which would be their seventh. After that LCC will continue to play NWC school members as a non-league opponent to assist LCC in a smooth transition of scheduling. This agreement would run through the 2014-15 school year unless LCC and a member school both find a replacement for their scheduled date.

"The biggest thing is, and that's one of the biggest reasons we decided to do what we did, I'm looking forward to continuing competition and relationships with each of those schools for many years to come," LCC Athletic Director Ron Williams said. "The agreement they helped us craft giving us a couple of years for scheduling. In the long run we really feel that LCC and many of the NWC teams will continue having competition in many different sports. Another thing that I think is big I want to get the word out that LCC is a great competitor and a classy institution to have on someone's schedule. The NWC has a lot of good coaches and programs and we would like to continue to play them."

It seems one of the biggest concerns by member schools and their communities was the number of titles the T-Birds have won in their first five plus seasons. Since 2006 LCC has won 24 NWC titles, including football, boys golf and girls soccer this past fall.

Overall the T-Birds have won four championships in football and three in boys basketball and 39 percent of the championships since their entry into the conference.

"Competitive balance was a concern even at the beginning of the time LCC was in the conference," NWC President and Paulding principal Todd Harmon said.

"When this was brought up it was handled very mature, I think it reflects the conferences continued professionalism and positive dialogue. It was something that was not done behind closed doors. The discussion was brought up and it was handled very well by the principals and athletic directors. There was a concern for competitive balance and those concerns were addressed by LCC."

"From what other administrators have told me and from what I heard in the meetings, this is a community driven pressure," Mullen added. "They are hearing from their community members that they didn't believe LCC was a competitive balance, good match in the Northwest Conference. There have always been a number of people in the communities who have thought LCC was not a good match for the NWC. Their success in football and boys basketball recently have drawn the feedback that many administrators get from their community members. I think its fair to say this was not at all driven by the other coaches or athletes it was driven basically by the community perception of LCC and their place in the conference now and going forward."

Williams said LCC offered to pull out of the conference in football and basketball, but that proposal was rejected by member schools. The members also discussed the voucher system in their meeting but did not feel it was an issue. Reportedly there are 80 students attending LCC through the voucher system and less than 20 percent of them participate in any type of sports. It was mentioned that being a private school LCC can accept any student in Allen County that wants to attend the school, which gives them a much larger area to draw students from than many of the smaller school systems have in their respective towns.

"This discussion came down to nine smaller communities and a discussion of the competitive issue for the last six years we have been in and going forward," Williams said. "The actual discussion of vouchers was not a big part of it. At the moment they feel LCC is not a good fit for the conference. I do understand what they are saying, does that mean our whole community does, not at all. However, I will tell our community that LCC will land on its feet."

Since the decision to leave the NWC, Williams said he has been in touch with other conferences in respect to possibly joining them or aligning themselves in reference to scheduling games with their conference members. He did not mention any league or conference by name, but did say it will be difficult to find a new league quickly as everything must fall right to get an invitation and the necessary number of votes to become a member.