MANSFIELD — As far as athletic administrators in Richland County are concerned, it’s a marriage made in heaven.
Highland High School officials announced late last week the school will return to the Mid-Ohio Athletic Conference, a league it helped form in 1990 and was a member of until 2017. The Fighting Scots will rejoin the MOAC for the 2021-22 school year with football coming on board the following fall.
“The MOAC is extremely pleased to add Highland as an eighth member to the conference,” MOAC commissioner Bill Clauss said last week. “We are looking forward to many years of outstanding competition and to the stability that Highland brings to the MOAC.”
Ontario athletic director Jeff Fisher agreed. The Warriors joined the MOAC after Highland’s departure.
“It’s an exceptional fit for the MOAC at a time when league membership across Ohio is up for grabs,” Fisher said. “They are a great fit both geographically and in terms of student enrollment.”
The MOAC has undergone a serious facelift since Highland left to become a charter member of the Knox Morrow Athletic Conference following the 2016-17 school year.
At the time of Highland’s departure, the MOAC included 15 schools divided into two divisions. Highland was a member of the MOAC’s Blue Division along with fellow Morrow County schools Northmor, Mount Gilead and Cardington, Knox County affiliates Fredericktown, Centerburg and East Knox and Marion Elgin.
Highland, along with the other Morrow and Knox County schools, announced in the fall of 2015 their intention to leave the MOAC to form the KMAC, along with then-Mid-Buckeye Conference member Danville. Elgin announced shortly after it would leave the MOAC for the Northwest Central Conference.
That left the MOAC with its seven Red Division schools: Galion, Marion Harding, Pleasant, Jonathan Alder, North Union, Buckeye Valley and River Valley.
Ontario and Clear Fork joined the MOAC in time for the winter sports season of the 2017-18 school year. By then, Jonathan Alder departed the MOAC for the Central Buckeye Conference. North Union followed Jonathan Alder to the CBC the following year and was replaced by Shelby, which spent one year in the Sandusky Bay Conference — which by then had become a 20-team, three-division mega-conference.
Buckeye Valley announced in February of 2018 it would leave the MOAC for the Mid-State League, leaving the MOAC with seven member schools. MOAC officials invited Highland to rejoin the league then, but Highland officials balked.
The Scots continued enrollment boom — it was far and away the largest member of the KMAC and projects to get bigger with the opening of a major chain store distribution center in nearby Marengo — compelled school officials to reconsider the school’s conference affiliation.
When the opportunity to rejoin the MOAC presented itself for a second time, Highland officials didn’t waste any time. The school board voted Wednesday to make the jump and the principals of the MOAC’s other seven member schools approved the move Thursday morning.
“I don’t think there’s any doubt that Highland is a good fit, not only from a size standpoint but also from a location standpoint,” Clear Fork AD Jeff Gottfried said. “When we were looking to find that eighth school, Highland kept coming up and the other (MOAC) members kept saying, ‘Well, maybe.’ They finally got to the point where they said, ‘If we don’t say yes this time, we may never get a chance to be asked again.’
“It will be good for everybody.”
Highland fits comfortably within the MOAC’s geographic and demographic footprint. The Scots will be the MOAC’s southern-most school but the distance to Shelby, the conference’s North Pole, is only about 36 miles.
The average distance from Highland to the other seven MOAC is 28.7 miles and about 37 minutes. Comparatively, the average distance from Highland to the other KMAC schools is 17 miles and 23.3 minutes.
From an enrollment perspective, Highland had outgrown the KMAC. In the most recent school enrollment figures provided by the Ohio High School Athletic Association, Highland had a combined male and female enrollment in grades 10 to 12 of 435. The next biggest school in the KMAC, Fredericktown, had an enrollment of 298.
Highland will rank fifth in the eight-member MOAC in terms of enrollment.
“Competition-wise, we’re right in the middle (of the MOAC) and it will allow us to grow some without us having to look for another league for another 15 years,” Highland athletic director Mike Delaney said. “We’re right in that sweet spot.”
It’s an arrangement that should last for years to come.
“Highland checks a lot of boxes,” Fisher said. “They’ve got a fantastic group of people in leadership roles, their facilities are second to none, their population right now fits right in the middle and their sports offerings mesh with the rest of the MOAC schools.
"The timing couldn’t have been better.”