Lakes Conference officials prepare for membership change
A Wednesday night meeting in Le Mars could alter travel plans and change high school sports schedules for members of the Lakes Conference, including Spirit Lake, Spencer and Storm Lake.
Le Mars School Board members "will consider accepting the formal invitation to join the Missouri River Activities Conference beginning with the 2019-20 school year," according to its Feb. 28 agenda. Le Mars would join East, West, North and Heelan in Sioux City as well as Sergeant Bluff-Luton, Council Bluffs Abraham Lincoln and Council Bluffs Thomas Jefferson — if the board accepts the invitation.
"Le Mars has been a terrific member of the Lakes Conference for years," Spirit Lake Superintendent David Smith said. "They are a first-class school district and we would be sad to see them leave."
Other members of the Lakes Conference are Cherokee, Estherville Lincoln Central and Western Christian of Hull.
"The Lakes Conference can and/or will continue to function with six teams and hope to expand in the future," Smith said. "Schools changing conference affiliations is nothing new. As school populations change, so will conference affiliations. There is no need to panic or put the cart in front of the horse. There are a lot of really good people who will figure out the best way to evaluate options and move forward. Adding additional members to the conference will be a fluid process."
Storm Lake Superintendent Carl Turner also thinks the Lakes Conference could continue even with the departure of Le Mars. Turner was an administrator in the Le Mars School District for 10 years before accepting the superintendent's position in Storm Lake.
"We could function as six members," Turner said. "The concern that you would have is: If you would have someone else leave and you went down to five, it would make it pretty difficult."
The Storm Lake Superintendent said Le Mars has cited travel times and potential membership instability as reasons for a potential change.
"We did have Emmetsburg leave last year, but — as far as I know — everyone with the exception of Le Mars is committed to the Lakes Conference," Turner said. "It's a conference that we'd like to see continued. It would be great for Le Mars to stay and then for us to continue to try to find at least one additional conference member so we could get back up to eight."
Turner said Lakes Conference officials have extended invitations to schools in the Siouxland, Raccoon River and North Central conferences, but stopped short of naming the specific schools eyed for expansion:
• The Siouxland Conference includes former Lakes Conference members Sheldon and Sibley-Ocheyedan, plus Okoboji, Boyden-Hull, Central Lyon, George-Little Rock, MOC-Floyd Valley, Rock Valley and West Lyon.
• The North Central Conference includes Algona, Clarion-Goldfield-Dows, Clear Lake, Fort Dodge St. Edmond, Humboldt, Hampton-Dumont, Iowa Falls-Alden and Webster City.
• The Raccoon River Conference includes Adel-DeSoto-Minburn, Ballard, Bondurant-Farrar, Boone, Carlisle, Carroll, Perry and Winterset.
"As we've talked to other schools, there have been some that have said they'd be interested in exploring it and there are some that have said, 'no, we're really happy with our conference. We have no desire to leave,' and you can totally understand that," Turner said.
A move to the MRAC provides Le Mars with five opponents who are less than 30 minutes away. Like Smith and Turner, Spencer Activities Director Ryan Sweeney doesn’t see the loss of Le Mars as a death blow to the league.
"It’s not probably ideal, but I will say that I think everybody else in the conference has made it pretty clear that they’re committed to the Lakes,” Sweeney said. “So, we feel pretty good with the six teams right now, and we certainly could make six teams work. The conference I was in previously had six teams for a while, and you can make it work."
Basketball will be one of the biggest scheduling challenges, according to the activities director.
"With a 21-game schedule, when you start to drop below seven in your conference, it gets more challenging to get non-conference dates and to get non-conference dates that you want where you want them without traveling two or three hours," Sweeney said. "So that’s a concern. That was one of the first things we talked about. It’s still possible with six teams, but with a seven-team (conference), everybody’s been pretty comfortable with that. We’ve been able to make the non-conference portion work. In our other athletic parts of things, you can mix and match pretty easily when you talk about volleyball and wrestling and baseball and softball. Basketball is usually the big sticker."
LAKES CONFERENCE AT A GLANCE
The Lakes Conference was an eight-team conference for much of its history. Its core members, from the 1930s through the 1980s, were:
• Estherville (Estherville Lincoln Central)
• Sibley (Sibley-Ocheyedan)
• Spirit Lake
• Storm Lake
— Sibley-Ocheyedan left for the Siouxland Conference in the 1990-91 school year. Le Mars brought membership back up to eight in 1993-94.
— Hull-based Western Christian joined the Lakes Conference as a ninth member at the start of the 1997-98 school year.
— Sheldon's departure after the 2008-09 school year brought membership back down to eight.
— Emmetsburg left after the 2016-17 school year to create the current seven-member Lakes Conference alignment.
— Le Mars is expected to vote on a potential move to the Missouri River Activities Conference tonight (Wednesday, Feb. 28).