History of the Wayne County Athletic League




            The organization of the Wayne County Athletic League has been a slow evolutionary process that dates back to the early 1920's.  High schools existed prior to that, but gymnasiums in which to play organized sports did not.  Baseball, played outside was the first interscholastic sport in the county schools.  Many of the communities had supported independent baseball teams for years.  High school teams naturally were organized.  Some early attempts were made to start football in some communities, but most of that was to come later.

            New high school buildings were constructed all over Wayne County in the middle 1920's.  Smithville, and Congress in 1922, Fredricksburg in 1923, Apple Creek, Mt. Eaton, Chester, Burbank, West Salem, Sterling, Doylestown, Dalton, Marshallville, Creston, Shreve, and Rittman all now had inside gymnasiums where basketball could be played.  In those days, Big Prairie was a part of the Wayne County system; in all 16 schools were involved.  These gyms were of the combined auditorium-gymnasium type.  Some ceilings were low and had cross-beam hazards.  Others were so small that no out of bounds lines were used on the ends of the court. Backboards were fastened against the walls.  This encouraged a running lay up shot where the player actually placed his foot on the wall itself in order to gain height.  At one school, a potbellied stove was in bounds and had to be avoided.

            Each school formed its own schedule and all teams did not play each other.  Travel was by private car and even sometimes by bobsleds in the winter.  Championships were decided by county tournaments.  The basketball tournaments were held at the College of Wooster.  Games started early in the morning and were all played in one day.  Girls' teams played at the same time in the girls' gym, one floor below the boys' gym.  Girls' games always preceded the boys' games and were of equal community importance.  Ashland College also held a Tri-County Invitational Basketball Tourney.  These drew the better teams from three counties, including Wayne County and all games were played in one day.

The Rittman school system became an exempted village system and dropped out of the league.  Big Prairie became a part of the Homes County System.  In 1938-39, Marshallville lost their high school.  This left 13 schools in the League all through the 1940's and up to the first consolidation, which was Northwestern in 1951.  Othe consolidations to follow were Norwayne, Waynedale, Marshallville-Smithville, and finally Triway.  Rittman was invited back into the League to make an 8 team league in 1961.  This continued until Triway withdrew and Hillsdale was added in 1970, which is the present format.

            In the spring of 1938, a Wayne County Coaches Association was formed.  At that time, the athletic program was more or less a "hit or miss" situation.  Everything came from the county school office, whose chief concern seemed to be to make enough money from the county tournament to finance all the county interscholastic activities.  A new organization resulted.  Athletics were now to be controlled by the school executive, made up of the principals and superintendents of the various schools.  A chairman for the Athletic Committee was appointed each year by the county superintendent.  The coaches' organizations were able to make recommendations to the Athletic Committee.  Regular monthly reports were made by the Chairman to the Committee.  This plan worked smoothly until Rittman and Hillsdale entered the league.  Since these schools did not attend the Wayne County School Executive meeting, a new approach was needed.  A Wayne County Athletic League constitution was drawn up.  Bylaws were adopted for the operation of the sports programs.  A chairman of the group was elected each year.  The other office created was a secretary-treasurer.  Wilbur Berkey served as secretary of the coaches association from its start in 1938 to 1948.  Thornton McCay was elected secretary in 1949 and continued in that position until 1974.  Jess Thomas took over the reins of secretary-treasurer in 1974 and served in that position for thirty-one years, until retiring in 2005.  Chuck Long is currently the secretary-treasurer.  The secretary first assigned all officials and made schedules.  In 1967, the position of league commissioner was created.  The purpose of this position was to assign officials for the games.  Mel Riebe was the commissioner from 1967 until 1969.  O.J. Thompson took over the position in 1970 and served until 1997.  Bob Spangler currently holds this position.  The secretary still makes all the league schedules and also operates the league website.  In 2007, the League went through a huge change in merging with the junior high association.  New constitution and by-laws were written to accomodate both groups.  This should create better communication and streamline the operations of our athletic programs. 

            Football in the Wayne County League followed a different course.  Earliest football was organized at Dalton High School in the 1920's. Wallace Clay, a teacher there, woith the help of used equipment secured from L.C.Boles at the College of Wooster, coached a team there for several seasons.  Doylestown and Rittman also had early teames. Then for a number of years only Doylestown, Rittman and Dalton had football teams.  When the consolidations were formed, student bodies were larger and football was organized at Norwayne, Smithville, Waynedale, and Shreve.  Booster clubs were formed to help finance lighted fields.  The first meeting of this group as an organized league was held in 1954.  The football league operated independently of the school executive group through 1961, with their own officers.  In 1962, the football league became a part of the Wayne County Athletic League and has operated that way ever since.

            Most of the schools had early adopted nicknames. Apple Creek - Aces, Smithville - Smithies, Mt. Eaton - Pirates, Burbank - Bombers, Fredricksburg - Freddies, Sterling - Eagles, Congress - Senators, Dalton - Bulldogs, Shreve - Trojans, West Salem - Clippers, Creston - Panthers, Doylestown - Chipps.  Later, Northwestern became the Huskies; Waynedale, the Golden Bears; Triway, the Titans; Rittman, the Indians; Norwayne, the Bobcats; and Hillsdale, the Falcons.

            Athletic competition in the league has been very even.  However, some schools have been more successful than others.  In basketball, Northwestern won the Class A State Championship in 1958 and 1964.  Northwestern also won the Class A State Championship in baseball in 1959 and 1966.  Smithville and Doylestown both had track teams finish as State Runners-up.  Hillsdale softball teams have won State Championships in 1979, 1994, 1996, 1999, and 2000; while finishing 2nd in 1978, 1986, and 1992.  In football, Smithville was the State Runner-up in Division V in 2001.  Two Wayne County League baseball players became successful major league players.  They were Denny Galehouse of Doylestown and Dean Chance of Northwestern.  Both were very successful major league pitchers for a number of years.  Dean Chance won the "Cy Young" award for major league pitchers in 1964.  A number of Wayne County League basketball and football players have played their sport at the College of Wooster and other Ohio colleges.  Larry Kolic of Smithville went on to play football at Ohio State and in the National Football League.  Matt Beaumont of Rittman was an All-American pitcher for the Ohio State baseball team. During the 2011-12 school year, both the Norwayne football and the Waynedale wrestling teams won state championships.

            All of this helps one to conclude that the Wayne County Athletic League is one of the strongest and best organized small school athletic leagues in the State of Ohio.


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