Future schedules are going to look a little different for Harris-Lake Park families and fans.
The school district faced an uncertain future in the Cornbelt Conference, but they recently got voted in to become the 12th member of the War Eagle Conference. The Wolves will start league play in their new conference in either the summer or fall of 2014.
"We're very pleased to get the word that we've been accepted in," said Harris-Lake Park superintendent Dennis Peters. "We think it's going to be a good fit and we think it's going to be a very competitive conference. I'm looking forward to it and our coaches are, too."
The Cornbelt Conference's future was bleak when former conference rivals North Sentral Kossuth and Armstrong-Ringsted merged. Graettinger-Terril and Ruthven-Ayrshire agreed to share sports programs. The Cornbelt Conference lost two more members when the Woden-Crystal Lake-Titonka and Twin River Valley schools were disbanded. Garner-Hayfield also joined with Ventura for all sports at the beginning of the 2012-13 school year.
North Union has students from the former North Kossuth, Sental of Fenton and Armstrong-Ringsted school districts. It is leaving for the North Iowa Conference the summer of 2014.
"We saw the writing on the wall so we brought it to at least discussion within the Cornbelt Conference on what the future would be and we all came to the decision that all of the schools would apply to other conferences," said Peters. "We knew in 2014-15 that we'd probably be down to four (schools)."
Trinity Christian was unanimously selected to the War Eagle Conference as well after getting denied a bid once before. The merger of Spalding Catholic with Gehlen Catholic created an opening in the 10-team athletic conference. The Tigers will join the WEC starting next season and will take over Spalding Catholic's schedule.
"We feel that Trinity Christian will be a good fit in that many of the teams in the War Eagle Conference play them already," said War Eagle Conference administrator Lonnie Boekhout. "They have adequate facilities and are working on expanding those. Harris-Lake Park has had a steady tradition of quality athletic teams that will fit in well to our league. Also, the construction of the Highway 60 bypass will make travel to Lake Park much easier for many of the teams."
Clay Central-Everly was denied entrance into the WEC, according to Boekhout. He said the school district doesn't have athletic offerings to match up with other schools in the War Eagle Conference -- including low student numbers at the JV and freshman level. In addition, Clay Central-Everly has applied to join another conference with closer proximity to them.
To reduce travel, War Eagle school officials have suggested creating two districts or "pods" based on school locations. The districts would play nearby opponents twice a season and play more remote schools once every other year. With this conference change, Hinton and Harris-Lake Park are now the farthest distance apart.
"There has been some talk of dividing the conference into two pods geographically and playing everyone once, for instance, in basketball and having the opportunity to play the other teams in your pod in a non-conference game," Boekhout said. "These are just ideas, however, that have been tossed around and nothing has been finalized."
From a competitive standpoint, Peters believes the War Eagle Conference could greatly benefit Harris-Lake Park.
"I think that's part of it is that we're in a league with similar-sized schools even though there are some bigger ones," he said. "We also see that playing some bigger schools can benefit you too sometimes. And it gives us a better schedule. Right now we're playing quite a few Mondays and Thursday, talking basketball mostly, but this will give us a consistent Tuesday-Friday schedule."
Boekhout said a 12-team conference will create some scheduling challenges.
"In the past, the WEC has used a double round-robin schedule for baseball and softball," he said. "There is concern now that 12 is too many teams to do that with. Also, 12 is too many for playing volleyball and golf in duals, so there will be some discussion to playing some triangulars in those sports."
Peters says the major challenges for his school district will be creating new rivals and scheduling.
"Anytime you're in a new league you build a relationships with the schools in your conference," he said. "We had good relationships with the schools in the Cornbelt; it's just a matter of time of developing those relationships with the War Eagle schools. Some of the obvious challenges are going to be the scheduling. We haven't been involved with that. With 12 schools, we'd like to keep open dates for volleyball tournaments and stuff like that and we'd like to know how the basketball scheduling is going to work out, if you just play each other or have pods or divisions. But we're the new kid, we're just going to lay low, keep our mouths shut and learn how the conference has been functioning."