By Garth Shanklin
Fall is the time of year for change.
Trees change their colors, leaves fall, Reds fans give up on the season and change to their Bengals gear. Change in August is inevitable, and the Southern Buckeye Athletic and Academic Conference opens the fall of 2017 with a whole host of changes.
Three schools, Wilmington, Clinton Massie and East Clinton join the league this fall after departing the crumbling South Central Ohio Conference. Fayetteville joins them in football only, jumping from the Ohio Valley Athletic League to the SBAAC. New sports begin, with girls’ golf teeing off this month and boys and girls bowling to hit the lanes for the first time this winter.
The change goes all the way up to the top, where SBAAC Commissioner Pat Hill has shifted into a secretary/treasurer role. A familiar face to the New Richmond area is now her replacement.
G. Warren McConnell began teaching in New Richmond in 1973. That same year, he was hired as the school’s junior varsity football coach and head track and field coach. He coached those sports for 33 years, while also serving two years as the head boys’ basketball coach. He said that experience will help him as he adjusts to his new role of commissioner.
“I have coached in high school for 30, 40 years around Clermont County, but New Richmond mainly,” McConnell said. “I was at Princeton for a couple years and I went to Sycamore for a year, but I ended up back in New Richmond. I’ve coached football, basketball, cross country and track. I think I have a wide range, and I know all the schools that are in the league, even the new ones. I’ve either coached at or coached against them. I think I know the community pretty well, the students and the types of schools that are in our conference.”
McConnell said the opportunity first made itself known to him last season. Hill talked to him about her new role during one of the county track meets.
“I’m retired from teaching and have been for a number of years,” McConnell said. “I was at one of the conference meets at Goshen in April and the districts in New Richmond and I saw Pat Hill. She said ‘I’m thinking about only doing so much of the commissioner’s stuff, you ought to think about applying.’”
He applied, and a short time later was selected to lead a conference that didn’t exist when he began his coaching career with the Lions. The SBAAC didn’t begin play until the 1987-1988 school year.
“I went in for an interview at the beginning of June, somewhere in that time,” McConnell said. “A week or so later, they called me and said we decided to choose you. I was very lucky and very happy.”
Now that he has the reigns, McConnell said his main goal is to make the league’s current members happy and the new members feel welcome.
“One of the main things is trying to make the conference run smoothly,” McConnell said. “When we have a conference meeting with all the athletic directors, I’m going to run that meeting. Trying to help new schools feel welcomed, and make the other schools feel like they all fit in and it’s a good fit for everyone so that nobody wants to leave.”
McConnell said that one of the main draws of the SBAAC is the diversity of teams in the league. Several different divisions are represented, giving members plenty of chances to qualify for the postseason.
“The number one driving in a lot of conferences is probably football, because that’s the only sport where every team doesn’t get in,” McConnell said. “Everything else, I think, you get in. Baseball, basketball, track, everybody gets in and you have a shot at going to the state. Football, you have to do well and score enough of the computer points and all that stuff. There are a lot of different divisions in football in our conference. We have a lot of chances for them to get into the playoffs, not just the team that goes 10-0 in the conference and nobody else gets a chance. Two, three and some years four teams have a shot at getting in there, and I think that makes everyone feel like, ‘Hey, I have a shot in the most difficult sport. ‘”
McConnell added with the rate of change in high school conference alignment, he hopes he is able to foster a culture that allows the schools in the SBAAC to stay together for a long period of time.
“I think they fit in well,” “Clinton Massie and East Clinton were in the conference before, and you kind of find that going on all the time. Every 5-10 years, schools are jumping or moving because of either distance or they don’t feel competitive. I think these schools are all going to be competitive.”
He also wants the schools to be rivals on the field while also sensing a level of success in their own programs.
“You want to have rivalries, but you want them to be friendly rivalries,” McConnell said. “You want all the schools to feel all of that, and take pride. We’re sending teams and kids to state, we’re getting kids to the all-city in Cincinnati. I’m hoping to promote competition and cooperation.”
As the regular season draws closer to beginning in most sports, McConnell said he’s awaiting the start of his new chapter.
“I’m looking forward to it,” McConnell said. “I’ve met the athletic directors, they’re all very nice. I think they’ll be easy to work with. Part of my job is if two Ads think something needs to be ironed out, I’ll be the one making the tie-reaking vote, but most of those things are figured out by the athletic directors or coaches themselves before it even comes down to me. I’m looking forward to making things a little bit better.”