The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

Sports

May 10, 2014

They're All-American

Lakeside receives invitation to join league

When the majority of schools in the Premier Athletic Conference decided they wanted to shake things up a bit, Lakeside, Geneva and University School were left out in the cold.

Geneva quickly found a home in the Chagrin Valley Conference.

It took Lakeside a little longer, but it, too, has found a home.

Pending approval by the Ashtabula Area City School Board, Lakeside will join Ashtabula County rivals Edgewood and Jefferson in the All-American Conference.

“The decision (for the PAC schools) was to go further west,” Zanelli said. “They reformed and are calling themselves the Western Reserve Conference. The (current PAC schools) except University, Lakeside and Geneva, will be part of it.

“We at Lakeside feel (the AAC) is a great fit for the school and its student-athletes,” Zanelli said.

Zanelli does not yet have a timeline for when the Dragons will begin competing in the league. That will be discussed in the coming week.

“There will be no PAC after the 2014-15 school year,” Zanelli said. “I had already gone ahead and scheduled quite a few football games against AAC schools. Because of the 2-year contracts in football, we hope to be in (the AAC) for everything but football in the 2015-16 school year.”

Lakeside, Edgewood and Jefferson are not likely to be placed in the same tier, but with all 3 being part of the league, the door is open for the 3 schools to renew yearly rivalries.

“We won’t be in their tiers, but we could definitely play them in crossover games,” Zanelli said. “We still have a great relationship with Geneva, Madison and Chardon and I hope we can keep playing them, as well.”

In some ways, the PAC not wanting Lakeside as a member was good for the school.

“(The PAC disbanding) was almost like a blessing,” Zanelli said. “It’s going to be a fantastic fit, other than the travel. In this day and age, with the super conferences, that’s how leagues work.”

There are several ties between Lakeside and AAC schools and Zanelli feels his school and the schools in the AAC have a lot in common.

“There are several schools in the AAC that we at Lakeside have connections with,” Zanelli said.

“There are schools that have an identity more like ours. The makeup of their student bodies is much like ours. There’s also the opportunity to play crossover games against local teams Edgewood and Jefferson.”

Lakeside will be placed among the biggest faction of schools in its new league.

“We’ll be in with teams like Boardman, Warren G. Harding and Austintown Fitch,” Zanelli said. “We’re the 21st team in the conference and there are 3 tiers in everything, except football.”

In some ways, moving from the PAC to the AAC will bump the level of competition the Dragons will face.

“We accept that challenge,” Zanelli said. “As student-athletes, coaching staffs and administrators, we believe we can meet that challenge. (This move) gives our student-athletes more exposure, as well.”

The All-American Conference was at the front of the pack as far as leagues Zanelli and Lakeside felt were the best options.

“They were the first conference we reached out to,” Zanelli said. “I’m close to a few ADs in the conference. They invited us to join and, hopefully, the board will accept it and we’ll go from there.”

Lakeside was attractive to the AAC for a number of reasons.

“Obviously, our facilities helped,” Zanelli said. “When the commissioners came for a visit, I felt they were impressed with our willingness to be part of the conference. The visit went quite well. Again, we have some relationships with some of the schools. We played Howland in football for a number of years and former AD Robert Conklin is at Fitch.”

Zanelli likes that he will rarely be sending his winter programs into the teeth of the winter weather.

“Another positive is, in the winter, we’ll be driving away from the snow,” Zanelli said. “People talk about travel time, but the majority of the schools are right off Route 11 Like we are and like Jefferson and Edgewood are. The time is deceiving because the schools are very accessible.”

The process of finding a new conference is far less than a year old, but Zanelli felt like it was a lifetime he waited to hear the good news.

“Being a first-year AD and having to deal with this, I don’t have anything to compare it to,” Zanelli said. “It may seem like it was quick to an outsider, but to me, it seemed like a long process because we needed a home. I couldn’t be more thankful to all the AAC schools for the way they’ve treated us and for extending that invitation.”

Ettinger is a freelance writer from Ashtabula.

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