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Apr. 13—In light of the Northern Lakes League announcement last Friday that it has invited four public-school members of the Three Rivers Athletic Conference to join forces in an expanded league, the TRAC’s five Catholic-school teams from Toledo are now facing an uncertain future after the 2022-23 school year.

Who will they compete against beginning in 2023-24 when Clay, Whitmer, Findlay and Fremont Ross join the NLL?

One potential answer to that question is the Detroit area’s Catholic High School League, a 27-member, multi-tiered athletic organization.

“I haven’t spoken to anyone directly at the [Catholic] schools in Toledo, but we would welcome them with open arms,” said Victor Michaels, who has been the CHSL’s director since 2003. “We’d love to have them enter as many of our leagues as they possibly can. I know travel might be a little bit of a problem, but we’re not that far away.”

Michaels said he fully understands the current plight of Toledo’s Catholic high schools — Central Catholic, which is co-educational, all-boys schools St. Francis de Sales and St. John’s Jesuit, and all-girls academies Notre Dame and St. Ursula.

One obviously hurdle in the Toledo Catholic schools merging with the larger schools from the CHSL would be that some boys and girls sports from Ohio do not currently match seasons with Michigan schools.

For instance, Ohio has boys and girls golf in the fall, while Michigan does each of those in the spring. Ohio has has boys and girls soccer both in the fall, where Michigan has girls soccer in the spring. Ohio has girls tennis in the fall, and Michigan has it in the spring. Boys swimming is held in each state in the winter, but Ohio girls swimming is also in the winter while Michigan has it in the fall.

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Those mismatched seasons likely will remain but, at least from Michaels’ viewpoint, don’t have to be a deal-breaker. He says the Toledo schools could pick and choose which sports they wish to form a Michigan-based CHSL alignment with.

This potential merger of their high school sports teams with those from the Detroit area was posed to officials from the Toledo Catholic schools on Monday.

—”There have been some discussions with some schools from the Detroit Catholic league,” St. Francis athletic director Justin Edgell said, “but there have also been discussions with schools in northwest Ohio and Cleveland and Columbus. We’re exploring all options. That’s St. Francis, and that’s also all of the Toledo Catholic schools.

“Detroit is close in proximity, and it could be a great fit. Not all of the sports line up, especially on the girls’ side. Football is off by a week, so there are some logistical things that would have to be figured out.

“But, it’s great to hear that they are open to one sport or all sports, whatever it might be. I think we are all interested in pursuing that conversation further.”

—”Right now we’re looking at all of our alternatives,” St. John’s AD Bob Ronai said. “All of the Catholic schools in Toledo are doing that.

“It’s nice to know that they are conferences that would love to have you, that you feel you’re needed and part of their conference. It would be easier on the boys’ side, but a little trickier on the girls’ side.”

—”We’re excited to explore the options that are available to us, whether that’s with this one or other ones throughout the state of Ohio,” said Central Catholic head of school Kevin Parkins. “This is an opportunity at a partnership that can have some similar values and can go farther and grow that partnership further.”

—”Notre Dame Academy is not ruling anything out at this time,” Eagles AD Gary Snyder said. “We’re not opposed to any discussions about a future conference or future agreements for games we might have. We’re not opposed to any of those conversations.

I haven’t yet had any of those conversations [with the Detroit Catholic schools] or had a formal discussion about anything. There are a lot of discussions that need to be had regarding what direction we want to go in with that.

“We’ll be a part of any discussion right now because we would ultimately like to keep our teams in a conference.”

—”I’m open to any possibilities right now,” St. Ursula AD Mike Donnelly said. “I want to enjoy the next one to two years of being in the TRAC and being a great member of that league.

“But, at the same time, we’ve got to look into the future of what’s best for our student-athletes at St. Ursula Academy, and do whatever we can to give our kids an opportunity to compete for titles and also to get recognition with postseason awards. I’m open to pretty much anything.”

According to Michaels, the CHSL’s structure has some built-in flexibility that does not exist in most traditional leagues in either state. The CHSL has an executive board that analyzes all sports after each season and moves teams into higher or lower divisions to create more level competition. That helps ensure that teams that are weaker in a certain sports do not languish year after year at the bottom of a division.

“We’d take them in everything, and we would rearrange our schedules and our leagues because that’s what we’re able to do,” Michaels said. “If [Toledo] Central Catholic was say terrible in one sport, they could play in our best football league and play in a lower league for that other sport. They wouldn’t have to get beat up in the other sports year after year.”

Currently, the CHSL includes five larger all-boys high schools that would seemingly align well competitively with the three Toledo Catholic schools. Those are Detroit Catholic Central, University of Detroit Jesuit, Warren De La Salle, Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice, and Orchard Lakes St. Mary’s.

If, for instance, Central Catholic, St. Francis, and St. John’s opted to join with the CHSL for football only, they could align with those five CHSL teams to form what would likely be balanced, competitive eight-team division.

One minor drawback is that Ohio plays a 10-game regular season in football, where Michigan has a nine-game regular season. But, in years when Ohio begins football in the same week as Michigan, the three Toledo teams would simply have to play a week-10 game. In years when Michigan starts a week later than Ohio, the 10th weeks for each would line up.

Providing larger school opposition for Notre Dame and St. Ursula could be a trio of similar-sized all-girls schools for the Detroit area — Bloomfield Hills Marian, Farmington Heights Mercy, and Warren Regina.

Although not as many of the seasons match for girls sports, a league alignment would be possible for volleyball, basketball, cross country, and track.

“A month or so ago I heard something was happening,” Michaels said of the recent NLL expansion. “One of my guys from U of D Jesuit spoke to someone, I believe from St. John’s. He said, ‘Hey, would you mind having a conversation with them?’ I said, ‘Absolutely not.’

“I called them all about 10 years ago and met with the then superintendent of the Catholic schools in that diocese. We tried to bring them in then. They had a little bit of interest, but it never happened.”

That topic is now likely to be discussed again soon.

“Certainly that is intriguing, and it’s nice to hear that,” Donnelly said of Michaels’ welcoming tone. “It is something that we will have to talk about and see where that might lead us. It’s definitely great hear that people are willing to speak with us about league possibilities.

“The thing I like about it is you’re dealing with like-minded schools with the Catholic faith, and at the same time there’s the possibility that we could compete for titles. There would be challenges with the sports that don’t line up.

“Like with anything, you have some pluses and minuses, and that would be something that we’d have to weigh and consider.”

First Published April 12, 2021, 7:15pm

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