Central Ohio on path to dominate in future


The Upper Arlington High School football team scored one for the perceived underdogs of central Ohio in 2000 when it defeated Solon 15-9 in the Division I state final to become the first area team to win a state championship in the large-school division since the inception of the playoffs in 1972.

Last year, Licking County League rivals Granville and Licking Valley were an eyelash from meeting in the Division II state final in softball.

On June 7, Bloom-Carroll and Williamsport Westfall -- a Pickaway County school in the Southeast District despite being in what is considered to be central Ohio -- met in a classic Division III state final in which Bloom-Carroll pitcher Taran Alvelo racked up a state tournament-record 24 strikeouts and no-hit Westfall for 13 2/3 innings. Westfall won 1-0, with its only hit coming on the final pitch.

The only logical conclusion is that central Ohio is on the edge of a dominant era in high school sports, right?

Well, not exactly, but given recent population shifts toward the center of the state, it's natural to wonder whether Columbus and outlying areas eventually might overtake Cincinnati and Cleveland for athletic supremacy across the board.

Estimates released in May by the U.S. Census Bureau show Columbus grew by 4.3 percent from 2010 through 2013, remaining the nation's 15th-largest city with 822,553 residents. That number does not include the suburbs, which, according to 2012 census estimates, pushed the area population to more than two million.

The metro area still is slightly smaller than those of Cincinnati and Cleveland, but someday that could change.

Anecdotally, at least some of the migration is owed to northeast Ohioans who come to Columbus for work and/or school and never go back. If our area's economy continues to improve, is there any reason to think the population's upward trend won't follow suit?

And surely among more than two million people, there must be athletes who are superior to those in the northeast and southwest portions of the state.

If the private schools in central Ohio competed predominantly in Division I, as the majority of those schools in Cincinnati and Cleveland do, who knows how different the story might already be?

Central Ohio has flexed its muscles for a while.

In 2003, Columbus Academy edged Amanda-Clearcreek 13-8 in the Division V state final in football. It was the first state final in football to feature two Central District teams.

The next one, and most recent to date, was in 2007, when Big Walnut defeated Licking Valley 17-10 in the Division III final.

Central Ohio already dominates in a handful of sports, such as boys lacrosse, in which Upper Arlington owns a state-record 15 championships and has defeated OCC-Buckeye Division rival Dublin Jerome in each of the past three Division I state finals.

The Golden Bears defeated Hudson 14-10 in a state semifinal June 4 before beating Jerome 11-5 in the final June 7. Prior to facing the Bears, Hudson coach David Blue drew an interesting comparison between Columbus-area teams and those from the rest of the state.

"I think a lot of people in Columbus like to think they're the SEC of boys lacrosse in the state of Ohio, while Cleveland and Cincinnati are in outlying conferences," Blue said, referring to the largely agreed-upon superiority of the Southeastern Conference in college football. SEC teams had won eight consecutive national titles before Florida State broke the streak this past season by beating Auburn 34-31 in the championship game.

"We think of ourselves as being like Boise State," Blue said. "We do things a little differently than everyone else."

Given the Ohio State football team's struggles against the SEC -- the Buckeyes officially are 0-10 against the conference in bowl games but actually are 1-10 when including a vacated 31-26 win over Arkansas in the 2011 Sugar Bowl -- the comparison is humorous.

Two years living in greater Houston a while back brought encounters with transplanted Ohioans, specifically former central Ohio residents, at seemingly every turn. It made for good Buckeyes-related conversations and the inevitable "boy, winter feels good down here" observations, but simultaneously it brought worries that someday all of our best and brightest would tire of never-ending winters and migrate to the Sun Belt.

No worries, though. We have plenty of great apples who never left home or are on their way here right now.