When I first became sports editor in 2002, I had heard a lot about the athletic reputation of Cuyahoga Falls and Walsh Jesuit high schools, and even a bit about Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy.

When asked about Woodridge High School, my first question was, "Where's that?"

Fifteen years later, I know well the path to 4440 Quick Road in the former Northhampton Township -- and Ohio is starting to learn about the athletic prowess generated by kids from around the Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

It has been building for years at Woodridge, but so far, 2016-17 might be the best athletic year in school history, particularly on the boys' side of things.

Obviously, things start with the football team, which has completely transformed over the last decade.

When I first saw Woodridge football during the 2003 season, the program barely had a pulse.

It took time -- and a lot of work from former coach Eric Ervin -- to change that. By the time he handed the program to current coach Jeff Decker before the 2014 season, the Bulldogs had transformed from also ran to perennial playoff contender.

Ervin once told me he had only one piece of advice for Decker: "Don't mess it up." Decker has most certainly not messed it up.

During the fall of 2016, Woodridge completed its second straight 10-0 regular season. The fact the Bulldogs bowed out in the second round of the playoffs -- losing 42-41 in an overtime thriller to eventual state semifinalist Perry -- and that was considered a disappointment speaks volumes.

Make no mistake, Decker has Woodridge football in full "program" mode.

Speaking of programs, however, the one that helped put Woodridge on the map had the best year in its history. Coach Jeff Howard might be nicest coach in my coverage area, but his cross country teams proved how tough they were in November.

The words "cross country factory" apply to Woodridge on the boys' side of things. The Bulldogs claimed their seventh Division II state title in the last 10 years.

That level of dominance is almost unfathomable in cross country -- especially for a public school.

This year, however, the Bulldog boys didn't shine alone. A few hours after the boys won the state title, Woodridge's girls won their first state crown since 1995.

Perhaps the Bulldogs had a bit of premonition it was going to be their year: Last summer, the contest to create a new logo for the City of Cuyahoga Falls was won by Claire Willet, who was key member of the Bulldogs' title winning team.

Add another PTC title for the Woodridge boys soccer program and it was good to wear maroon in fall.

If anything, it was even better to wear maroon in winter.

Consider this: The combined records of the three Woodridge boys winter sports teams -- basketball, bowling and wrestling -- were 54-4.

All Ric Blevins' boys basketball team did was set a school record for wins with 22 and win only its third division title in school history.

One rough night against Coventry was all that kept Woodridge from a perfect regular season. Bowing out in the district semifinal to a Cleveland Central Catholic squad which made it to the Division II regional finals is no shame.

Meanwhile, the Bulldogs bowlers rolled through the PTC with, save one hiccup vs. Coventry -- darn you, Comets! -- on its way back to the Division II state tournament.

I'm certain Keith Shovestull and Co. would have loved to have finished three places higher to claim the state title, but finishing fourth in the state back-to-back year shows how consistently good the Bulldogs have been.

As for Mike Massey's grapplers, the season lived up to the hype.

First overall victory in the league tournament? Check.

First trip to the state dual meet tournament? Check.

Things at the state tournament may not have gone the way Woodridge hoped, but that takes nothing away from what the Bulldogs accomplished.

Perhaps the best thing about the 2016-17 school year for Woodridge is, it's not over.

I learned long ago never to count Woodridge baseball out of any game until the final out.

Coach Dennis Dever has some holes to fill this spring, particularly on the mound.

Such issues haven't kept Woodridge from competing for the PTC title in years past, especially since all of Dever's teams seem to improve from March to May.

After a couple of tough seasons, it would be no great surprise to see the Woodridge softball team get back in contention this spring.

Then, there's this question: What happens when you put the best athletes from the Bulldog football and cross country teams together? A very happy coach Les Carney, whose boys track team could be in for a huge spring.

Ditto for the Bulldog girls track team, as Jeff Howard has a bevy of athletes capable of making a run at states.

Bulldog fans, these are the good old days. Embrace them for all they are worth.

Email: mleonard@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9442

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