IRONTON - Oak Hill has for the most part been the king of Southern Ohio Conference Division I sports in recent seasons.
The Oaks, though, figure to be tested by a move up to Division II, the large-school division of the conference. The first trial comes in football season.
"I like it," Oaks coach Paul Carver said. "It's better competition and it's a good challenge for us. It's something the kids look forward to. It's a good conference used to winning and putting teams in the playoffs."
SOC Division I features Eastern-Pike, Green, Portsmouth Notre Dame, Sciotoville East, Symmes Valley and Western-Pike, along with non-football-playing schools Ironton St. Joe, New Boston and Portsmouth Clay. Division II includes Minford, Northwest, Portsmouth West, Lucasville Valley, Waverly and Wheelersburg, as well as non-football-playing school South Webster.
All those Division I schools except Northwest have been to the playoffs in recent seasons, with Wheelersburg being among the better teams in the state. The Pirates won a state championship in 2017. Wheelersburg has won five consecutive conference crowns and 21 league games in a row.
Oak Hill brings plenty of tradition. The Oaks went 8-3 and made the playoffs last season, losing 62-13 to Meadowbrook in the first round. It was the second consecutive year Oak Hill made the postseason. Oak Hill hasn't played a lightweight schedule, either, playing Minford on a regular basis, playoff team Green last year, frequent playoff squad Chesapeake in most seasons and bigger school Rock Hill.
The Oaks play Chesapeake, Rock Hill and 2018 playoff team Fairland this season. All three of those schools are in the Ohio Valley Conference, which Oak Hill left in 1991.
"I like the SOC," Carver said. "We still play OVC schools and some of those teams are in our region in the playoffs."
The Oaks will be young, with just seven seniors, but Carver said he thinks his team has potential. Once a pass-happy program, Oak Hill now features a power rushing attack.
"Our kids have worked hard," Carver said. "Our kids are committed to it and we hope to build off what we've had here in the past."