By Rick Palsgrove
Friendly neighborhood rivals the Canal Winchester Indians and the Groveport Madison Cruisers will reunite in the same division of the Ohio Capital Conference starting with the 2024-25 season.
The move became possible when the 32-team OCC approved adding Teays Valley and Logan to the conference. Teays Valley currently is in the Mid-State League and Logan has competed as an independent since its former conference, the Southeastern Ohio Athletic League, became defunct at the end of 2016-17. The OCC began with eight teams in 1968 and has since grown to its current size with teams located throughout central Ohio.
The OCC Buckeye Division starting in 2024-25 will include: Canal Winchester, Groveport Madison, Newark, Lancaster, Logan, Pickerington Central, Reynoldsburg, and Teays Valley.
The new division will excite Indian and Cruiser fans because it places the two rivals in the same division again after they were moved to different ones in 2020-21.
Canal Winchester reaction
“I’m excited for our student athletes, coaches, and community,” said Canal Winchester High School Athletic Director Pat Durbin of the realignment. “It is an excellent fit for Canal Winchester and we’re looking forward to it.”
Durbin said he likes the new OCC Buckeye Division for many reasons.
“It’s an opportunity to develop friendly rivalries within our proximity,” said Durbin. “The competitive balance is very good.”
Durbin anticipates an increase in ticket revenue because of the neighborhood rivalries and because fans will not have to travel far to attend games away from home.
“These schools have fans that travel well,” said Durbin.
Additionally, he said fans from neighboring communities may be friends or family members of Canal Winchester fans and it is fun to go to a game with people who you are close with.
“Also, our transportation costs will go down because we will be transporting athletes fewer miles,” said Durbin, who gave the example that in the OCC division Canal Winchester currently is in, it takes about an hour and 10 minutes to travel from Canal Winchester to Delaware Hayes High School.
Durbin said the new division is not just about football.
“We have 17 athletic programs that are doing well,” said Durbin, who noted the girls cross country team went to the regionals this year and the boys soccer team was district champions. “We aspire to get to a another level. We have strength. We can compete at a high level and welcome the challenge. This will be highlighted in this new division.”
Durbin, who is a member of the OCC’s realignment committee, said that realignments are never perfect. He said the OCC realignment committee reviews the league’s divisions every four years to see if any adjustments need to be made. However, he added, “All the members of the OCC work together to do the best we can to be as fair and equitable as we can.”
Groveport Madison reaction
“I love the new alignment,” said Groveport Madison High School Athletic Director Steve Petros. “School size isn’t that important to me. I like the fact that, except for Pickerington Central, the division will be all single high school districts.”
Petros said the travel times between the schools in the division are “fantastic” for Groveport Madison.
“Even Logan, which seems far away, is only 30 minutes away because of U.S. Route 33,” said Petros. “This is about as good as we could hope for in terms of our teams and families having to travel.”
Petros said he is happy Groveport Madison and Canal Winchester are back together in the same OCC division.
“Bringing Canal Winchester in the division with us makes all the sense in the world,” said Petros. “I was very upset when a school that is an exit away was put in a different division (in 2020-21).”
Petros said this new version of the OCC Buckeye Division will continue to be a competitive division.
“The sports vary on who the dominant school will be,” said Petros. “The new schools (Teays Valley and Logan) will have a little bit of an adjustment period but will be just fine.”
He said the new alignment “is a great thing for Groveport Madison.”
“I feel like we may finally have a division that could remain the same for a long time,” said Petros. “Our kids should be excited to be in one of the top divisions in the state of Ohio. We will continue to have to work hard to be competitive in all of our sports. I would hope that would motivate all of our student-athletes.”
In its more than a century of athletic competition, the Groveport Madison Cruisers have competed in three leagues: the Franklin County League from the early 1900s to the 1957-58 season; the Mid-Eight League from 1958-59 to 1973-74; and the Ohio Capital Conference from 1974-75 to the present.