* Editor's Note: The following is the third and final installment of a three-part series examining South Tama County's move to the WaMaC conference. This piece of the series is an opinion piece by Sports Editor Jimmy Gillispie.
South Tama County needs to find a home and stay there.
During the past seven years, South Tama has been a lost little puppy trying to find a permanent home. However, it's found temporary homes for conferences and not given itself time to fully unpack or settle in before packing up and moving out.
After many years in the WaMaC, South Tama left because of the distance it was traveling for games. STC went to the Little Hawkeye Conference for a few years, but then bolted again. In 2011, STC became part of the North Iowa Cedar League, where it's been successful in many sports during the past two school years. In January, the STC school board voted to leave the NICL and head back to the WaMaC.
The distance problem STC had during its first stint was sovled when the WaMaC divided itself into an east and west divisions. STC Superintendent Kerri Nelson said the district was joining the WaMaC because of more middle school and fine arts opportunities. So now STC will be starting its fourth conference in eight years when it begins the 2014-15 school year.
South Tama's school board needs to immediately rescind the vote and see if the NICL will allow it to stay. Moving to the WaMaC is not the answer.
The decision to move should have been a thorough one that involved input from all of the coaches and some community members. Since the vote was made, I've talked to parents and coaches, most of whom aren't in favor of the decision.
The move just doesn't make sense, especially right now. The Trojans have endured two successful years in the NICL. They swept the NICL West track and field titles this spring. Most STC sports have finished in the top half of the conference.
During that same time, the Trojans have played several WaMaC schools, including Benton and Vinton-Shellsburg, in various sports. The Trojans haven't always fared well in those contests. That's not even taking into account other powers in the WaMaC, such as Solon, Independence, Clear Creek-Amana and Dyersville-Beckman Catholic.
One of the downsides to the NICL is it consists of smaller schools, mostly Class 1A or 2A, while South Tama is primarily a 3A school. However, some of those 1A or 2A schools are talented and competitive on the state level, making them good challenges for South Tama during the regular season.
In theory, competing against Class 3A and 4A schools in the WaMaC will better prepare a team for the postseason. In reality, if South Tama isn't successful against those 3A and 4A teams, its confidence will be shot and the love of the game is gone.
"We did go 0-3 against the WaMaC this year, not scoring a single run, losing to Vinton twice and Benton once, for a total score of 29-0," STC softball coach Chelsea Ahrens said. "That for me in a big indicator of how difficult the WaMac will be. In my five years here we have never beaten a WaMac team. Yearly we play Benton and Vinton and we have also played Marion and Clear Creek-Amana. Everyone says that better competition will better prepare us for the postseason, but I do not see how getting beat 29-0 prepared us better for the competition. It was the games we lost 2-1 and 4-3 that prepared us better to win."
If South Tama teams begin declining in wins when it joins the WaMaC, how soon will participation numbers fall? It's well known that success in a program leads to higher participation numbers and vice-verse. A failing or struggling program will consistently have trouble finding enough players for a varsity, junior varsity and freshman teams.
So, if high school participation numbers decline, was it worth the move? The WaMaC might offer more middle school opportunities, because some NICL schools don't have high middle school participation numbers. If they go out in middle school, but don't go out in high school because of a declining program, then what was the point?
South Tama middle school teams could easily schedule some WaMaC or other area teams to compete against. Schedule different opponents to increase playing time for the middle school teams.
What's more important - opportunities for a few middle school students or the varsity level teams winning?
I hate to sound cynical or disrespectful, but high school varsity sports are way more important. They are the ones talked about at the work water cooler or town gas stations. They are the ones that help some students earn college scholarships to continue their athletic career.
My home state of Kansas had some school district cutting middle school athletics for budget cuts. A school in my hometown opted to eliminate all seventh grade sports two years ago to save money on the district's budget.
Middle school athletics are nice to offer and they do help students learn the game. However, it's not worth expanding their opportunities at the expense of your high school varsity competition.
Another huge impact is the extra traveling. I'm sure baseball and softball parents and family members will love making a four-hour-plus round trip to some of the WaMaC East Division schools. They'll also love when their children get home after midnight after conference games.
Travel and competition are probably the two main factors school districts join the conference they do. Yet, STC is moving back to a conference for more travel and tougher competition.
Puzzled, too? If possible, the STC school board needs to immediately reconsider this matter ASAP. The NICL has been a good home for two years, let's keep it that way.