By JOSH SIGLER KOKOMO TRIBUNE
---- — BUNKER HILL — In what it deems as a matter of self-preservation, Maconaquah’s athletic department finds itself between a rock and a hard place.
And after Tuesday’s work session to gauge public and internal support of a move out of the Mid-Indiana Conference and into the Three Rivers Conference, another proverbial domino appears ready to fall, moving the MIC one step closer to extinction.
The hour-long meeting revealed overwhelming support from coaches and the public to make the move. In all, one speaker — a public patron — spoke out against the move because of what he perceived as a step down in competition.
With the current situation, that consensus seemed to reveal officials feeling as if the school may have no other choice.
“I know we will compete no matter what conference we’re in,” Maconaquah athletic director John Off said. “I love the MIC, but as I see it kind of falling apart, we had to look for something that was best for the kids. And, I thought [the TRC] was the best option. Leaving here [Tuesday], I think we’re in a good place and the board has a view on what the public feels in general terms of pro or con.”
The current MIC’s charter dates back to 1965, with various teams joining and leaving over time to create the eight-team league known today, consisting of Cass, Eastern, Hamilton Heights, Maconaquah, Northwestern, Peru, Taylor and Eastern.
Taylor announced on Dec. 11 that it was leaving the conference to join the Hoosier Heartland Conference for the 2015-16 school year, and indicated at that time Eastern intended to do that same. Eastern did not give Taylor permission to make that announcement because its school board had not made an official decision on the matter, but later voted on Jan. 14 to also leave the MIC for the HHC.
Off said the MIC has since offered membership to Lapel and Tipton, but neither school has given an indication of what their plans are. Lapel is currently operating as an independent, while Tipton is a member of the seven-school Hoosier Conference.
The TRC extended invitations to Peru and Maconaquah, effective 2015-16, on Jan. 15. Maconaquah’s next regular board meeting is March 19, and it is anticipated that a vote on the matter will occur at that time. The TRC has given Peru and Maconaquah until April 1 to accept or decline its invitation. Peru’s school board voted Monday to accept the TRC’s invitation, but the league has said it will only take both or neither as a packaged deal.
“When I thought Eastern was going to stay, I was overwhelmingly for just slipping Tipton in there and going on because I really like the MIC ADs,” Off said. “But, as we saw that continue to crumble and starting seeing other schools hedge their bets and play both sides — I don’t blame them for that because it’s a matter of survival — I started to see the likelihood of an intact MIC starting to slip away. That’s what concerned me.”
The current TRC includes Manchester, Northfield, North Miami, Rochester, Southwood, Tippecanoe Valley, Wabash and Whitko.
It was also divulged during Tuesday’s work session that Hamilton Heights intends to seek entrance into the Sagamore Conference. If Maconaquah votes to leave with Peru for the TRC, that potentially would leave the MIC with three schools left in Cass, Northwestern and Western.
Maconaquah officials indicated that two of those three are interested in the prospects of joining the TRC along with Peru and Maconaquah, and splitting the would-be 12-school league into two six-school divisions. Those two other schools were not identified, but through the process of discussion, it was revealed that one of them does not offer soccer as a sport. Cass is the only MIC school that doesn’t offer soccer.
As for Maconaquah’s interests, Off polled the coaches of his 19 varsity sports on their thoughts on a potential move to the TRC. Of the 16 that responded, 14 were in favor of the move.
Several coaches spoke to the board Tuesday, including volleyball coach Jessica Metcalf, football coach Mark Hartman and boys basketball coach Andy Steele.
Metcalf’s squad has a 21-match winning streak in MIC play, but was in favor of the move from a competition standpoint. She did voice her concerns over long travel times on school nights, however.
“The volleyball programs in the TRC are very competitive, and I feel it would toughen our schedule up,” Metcalf said. “Several of our losses in the last three seasons have come at the hands of teams in the TRC. I feel this tougher competition in the regular season may benefit our program to be more successful in the postseason.”
Hartman and Steele shared a similar train of thought. Whether in favor of one conference or another, they find it necessary to act before a lack of action leaves them with no options in terms of conference affiliation, which could lead to scheduling headaches.
“That last thing you want to do is leave yourself searching for games,” Hartmand said. “When you look at scheduling, nothing would be set in stone unless we’re in a [full] conference, until all the other schools got their conference schedules set. It would absolutely kill the program to have to miss weeks. Football is a Friday night thing, and you can’t put games in on a Monday or Wednesday. We don’t have a lot of wiggle room and would have to take what we could get. So, from a football point of view, I think it’s very important that we have something stable like the TRC.”