Saying goodbye to the City LeagueWritten by Chris Schmidbauer | | firstname.lastname@example.org
When the final horn sounded, a mighty cheer erupted from the Whitmer section. The Panthers had done what many thought was impossible just hours before: they beat St. John’s Jesuit for the City League basketball title.
As the Panthers cut down the nets from the south basket, strands of nylon clutched in their hands, it may not have dawned on many that this was it. This was the final City League championship.
The league will continue next season with the six Toledo public schools remaining to pick up the pieces, but high school sports in the Glass City will never be the same.
The league began in 1926 with initial members Waite, Woodward, Libbey and Scott, but the league as we know it didn’t take shape until the late 1960s. For the next 40-plus years, the area’s premier athletic conference dominated the headlines and the minds and hearts of local prep sports fans.
Some wondered if the league would ever meet its demise. A colleague of mine in the local sports media industry in town said he thought the City League would last forever.
The league boasted its fair share of triumphs.
The conference always found ways to get fans excited for league titles and it always put them on a grand stage.
There was the Shoe Bowl and then the Hall of Fame game, which were used to decide who wore the league crown in football.
The aforementioned final four format in basketball has long been popular among Toledo’s hoop aficionados.
But there were rocky times as well.
Many will never forget that first season after Macomber-Whitney and DeVilbiss high schools were closed in 1991.
Some still can’t bear to drive down Western Avenue, can’t see the shuttered doors of Libbey High School without thinking about the more recent days when the Cowboys dominated the sports landscape.
There were squabbles about whether the league was too big, and TPS’s ever-changing body of schools and budget woes created uncertainty and doubt throughout the years.
The City League, however, had always been able to weather the storm — until recently.
The back-to-back TPS levy failures forced a difficult choice. All junior high and freshman sports were cut from the district schools.
The school board also eliminated certain sports altogether. Wrestling, golf and cross-country were all sent to the cutting room floor.
With an uncertain future, the league’s seven non-TPS schools had to make a tough choice.
At the end of the school year, those seven institutions decided to leave the City League and form a new league, the Three Rivers Athletic Conference.
Talk to any of the seceding school’s athletic directors; none are happy with the outcome, but many said that the non-TPS schools couldn’t wait to see if the situation got better or worse.
There will be spring sports, and in many ways this is the last hurrah for the league. Baseball, softball and track and field titles will be up for grabs for one final time.
In many ways, the basketball finals were the league’s swan song. Long seen as one of the tougher conferences in the entire state for basketball, the final four in basketball was one title that never seemed to lose its luster.
Players like Jimmy Jackson, Dennis Hopson, Kelvin Ransey, Todd Mitchell and William Buford all played in the conference’s hoops tournament, and some were lucky enough to cut down the nets, too.
The tournament will continue next season with the six remaining schools, but it won’t be hosted at Savage Arena and it won’t carry the same weight it once did.
As Whitmer’s head coach Bruce Smith descended the ladder on Feb. 24 with his piece of the net in hand, the City League changed forever.
Amidst the smiles and photos being snapped, no one seemed to realize that the end is near.
I can’t help but be a little sad about that.
Chris Schmidbauer is sports editor for Toledo Free Press and Toledo Free Press Star. He is also the co-host of the “Odd Couple Sports Show” on Fox Sports Radio 1230 WCWA and can be heard every weekday from 10 a.m. to noon. He can also be seen weekly on the “Friday Night Frenzy Tailgate Show” on NBC 24’s America One. Contact him at email@example.com.