Grinnell to join WaMaC in 2023

In the not too distant future South Tama and Grinnell rivalry games will get to be part of the regularly scheduled WaMaC Conference programming. Once the Tigers join STC in the WaMaC in 2023 that will free up extra non-conference games on the schedule for sports like basketball, baseball, volleyball and softball to pick up additional competition. -- News Chronicle File Photo

South Tama’s oldest rival is preparing to make their first change in athletic conference in over 25 years.

This past October the Grinnell-Newburg Community School District approached the WaMaC Conference to make a formal request to join South Tama in the 13-team athletic conference made up of primarily mid-sized schools in Eastern Iowa.

Not long after, the WaMaC Conference accepted the request and the Grinnell-Newburg District were then left to await a decision from the Little Hawkeye Conference about when they could leave.

Grinnell and the WaMaC Conference hoped to make the move effective at the start of the 2022-23 school year since current members Maquoketa and Beckman Catholic are scheduled to leave the WaMaC Conference after this year for the River Valley Conference.

However in December, Little Hawkeye Conference officials voted to release Grinnell from the conference a year later than what was originally hoped for, meaning Grinnell will begin competing as a member of the WaMaC Conference at the start of the 2023-24 school year.

According to minutes from the Grinnell-Newburg December Board of Education meeting, the move is due to Grinnell’s incoming class sizes being significantly smaller than their current conference.

Since 1996 Grinnell has been a member of the Little Hawkeye Conference in Central Iowa. They joined the Little Hawkeye with Pella and Knoxville after the reorganization of the South Central Conference following the 1995-96 school year.

Today they’re tied with Pella as the third oldest remaining school in the conference behind Norwalk (founding member in 1983) and Pella Christian (joined in 1991).

In the past decade the Little Hawkeye Conference has realistically become more of a Big Hawkeye Conference as they’ve become the destination for wayward CIML Conference 4A schools (Indianola and Newton) as well as others that have enjoyed the benefits of being located within a rapidly growing metro area (Norwalk and Dallas Center-Grimes).

In the eight-member Little Hawkeye Conference they are the second smallest by enrollment. Only Pella Christian is smaller.

In the WaMaC Conference they look to be fourth largest by enrollment but not by a very wide margin.

From South Tama’s perspective, the shift to bring Grinnell into the WaMaC Conference will subtract a pair of two hour drives east in exchange for a 30 minute drive.

“I don’t think it impacts South Tama negatively at all,” South Tama Activities Director Anthony Jahr said. “We’re already playing them now in every sport we play. The move just frees us up to play another non-conference game and it helps us with having another school in conference that is close by. They’re tough and they put out high quality programs. But we like that they’re a rival and that they’re close.”

Jahr said there’s been no conversation happening at the district level about South Tama changing conferences. He sees only three real options for South Tama in athletic conferences, with the current WaMaC Conference being the best despite difficulty some varsity teams have had competing the Trojans rejoined the conference in 2014.

Apart from the WaMaC, Jahr said the other hypothetical options would be the Little Hawkeye Conference or the North Iowa Cedar League (NICL).

The Little Hawkeye would pose the same competition challenges as the WaMaC and the concern with the NICL Conference is the lack of middle school and sub-varsity levels within the various programs that could undermine participation in the long-term.

A decision that will be discussed by WaMaC officials over the coming year is how to align the remaining schools in the WaMaC Conference once Grinnell joins in 2023.

The conference is currently split in an east/west configuration, though with fewer schools now located east of Cedar Rapids, another option may be to split the conference along U.S. Highway 30 and make a north/south alignment instead.

Notes from the Grinnell-Newburg December Board meeting also indicated discussion was being had about trying to schedule the long distance conference games on Fridays to help students and families with their schedules.

As a temporary measure, Independence will join the WaMaC East Division for one school year to give the east side five schools and the west side six.