FOREST PARK, OH (FOX19) - A local high school's administrators claim they're being shut out of a new sports league because of race.
"I won't say picked on, but we're definitely being shut out," said Winton Woods Athletic Director Dwight Campbell.
Winton Woods High School Principal first made those accusations public on Tuesday in an open letter to the media.
The school was originally part of the Fort Ancient Valley Conference. In November, the FAVC broke apart. Several member schools cited various reasons. Around that same time, seven local schools left to create their own league: the Eastern Cincinnati Conference. Winton Woods school leaders say the schools did it behind their backs and now won't let them be a part of it.
Winton Woods district leaders have asked for criteria, but they say it still just doesn't add up. Meanwhile, members of the ECC say their claims are meritless.
"We were the 2009 Division II football champs," said Winton Woods Superintendent Dr. Camille Nasbe. "It's just really disheartening to tell your kids, you know, you do well, you're good sports, and this is what happens."
"This" includes losing a place in one of Cincinnati's sports leagues. Principal Dr. Terri Holden said it's because of the racial make-up of her student body.
"Going through the process, looking at the demographics, she can't come up with any other solution than it is race," said assistant principal David Lumpkin.
According to the 2009-2010 State Ohio Local Report cards, 70-percent of the students at Winton Woods is black. The largest percentage at the other ECC member schools, including Glen Este, Milford, Turpin, Loveland, Anderson, Kings, and Walnut Hills is 34-percent.
But founding members of the ECC disagree.
We tried contacting several of the founding schools. Two of them, Glen Este and Milford sent us a statement, saying the allegations are: "Without merit and not based on fact. The formation of the ECC was not accomplished with any racial motivations, nor does it operate with any racial purpose."
The ECC currently has seven teams, but ideally, needs an eighth. Reportedly, members have asked several other schools to be a part of the new league, but most have declined the offer. Winton Woods applied to be a part of the conference last month, but was rejected.
In Dr. Holden's letter, she wrote: "Winton Woods formally applied to the ECC on February 7, 2011. On February 10, 2011, Rod Russell, ECC Commissioner, responded via email that "at this time the ECC is not in a position to consider expansion."
As for criteria, the ECC released a statement on Friday that outlined what is required to be a part of the new conference:
"The ECC was formed based on the long-standing relationships and similar philosophies that exist between its member school districts. While geography and similar size of members were motivating factors of the formation of the ECC, this new league will also provide a host of other benefits to our districts, our programs and our students."
In Tuesday's response to the allegations, the ECC also touched on that issue, stating: "Any statement to the contrary is malicious and misleading."
Still, school leaders at Winton Woods said it just doesn't add up.
"If you say travel time, we're right on the highway and on the expressway," said Lumpkin. "If you say that that's a problem, then why are you asking Harrison and why are you asking Lebanon and why are you asking Springboro?"
Administrators at Winton Woods said the issue is about more than playing games, but winning futures. Dr. Nasbe told FOX19 many of their students depend on athletic scholarships to go to college.
"That's what I really am upset about because our athletes earn a lot of college scholarship money," said Dr. Nasbe. "Many of these students, they're first generation. It means a great deal. That's what we're about as an institution. As a high school, it's to get our kids to college."
And to do that, school leaders they need a league to play in.
"We have to get in a league," said Campbell. "That's our main goal. Our goal is to be a part of the league, and we have approached other area leagues."
Campbell said the problem with getting into another league right now is many of them are full, but school leaders promise to find one for their kids.
ECC leaders said the application process for an additional high school member in the ECC has not yet begun and will not be open until Spring 2012. Any school district is welcome to apply at that time.