By JOSH SIGLER KOKOMO TRIBUNE
---- — GREENTOWN — For the Eastern High School administration, what had been rumored for months became official Tuesday night.
The Eastern Community Schools board voted 5-0 to leave the Mid-Indiana Conference and move to the Hoosier Heartland Conference, effective for the 2015-16 school year.
A standing-room-only crowd listened to two hours of discussion on the topic, including comments from 17 public patrons, several coaches, administrators and every board member before the decision was rendered.
”I’m really proud of the community for showing up and offering their input,” Superintendent Tracy Caddell said. “I said all along this needed to be a community decision, and you could see [Tuesday] night, Greentown parents have a lot of passion for their kids. And, whether you were for or against this particular issue, it’s really indicative of how much our parents care, how much our board cares, as well as the high school administration and athletic council. They all did a tremendous job of researching this issue, and our coaches all had a voice. To me, it was really democracy in action. ... I’m really proud of [everyone’s] rationale. But, I’m relieved it’s over.”
The Hoosier Heartland Conference, which currently includes Tri-Central, Sheridan, Carroll, Clinton Central, Clinton Prairie and Rossville, under the new proposal, will add Eastern, Tri-County, Frontier and Taylor.
Public concern was multi-faceted, but centered around two major concerns.
Patrons see travel time to schools like Frontier and Tri-County as a major deterrent due to the fact parents who work until 5 p.m. will struggle to make it to those destinations in time to see an athletic event.
Athletic Director Brad Wilson presented travel times to several current non-conference opponents’ schools in a slide show, several of which were similar to the HHC schools with the exception of Frontier and Tri-County, and added Eastern would not schedule events to those particular destinations on school nights.
Other patrons saw the move as way for some programs which haven’t competed at a high level in the MIC historically to win with a higher frequency, albeit against what many perceived as lower-caliber competition.
As it stands currently, Eastern is the second smallest school in the MIC according to IHSAA enrollment numbers, and would be the smallest in the league with the impending departure of Taylor. In the new-look HHC, Eastern will be the largest school. After receiving an official invitation to join the HHC, Eastern’s 19 varsity coaches voted 15-4 in favor of the move on two separate occasions.
“It’s about all the kids,” said Principal Keith Richie, a former boys basketball coach at the school. “We have some programs that are very successful and will continue to be successful no matter which conference we are in. We have a couple programs where it’s not been fair. Football is one and basketball is another. And, I think this gives us an opportunity [to compete]. But like some of the other coaches said, this is not going to be a slam dunk that we’re going to beat up on anybody in this conference. It’s going to be a competitive conference, and we may still not be really successful. But, the key is that we’re comparing apples to apples now. The conference we’re in now, the Mid-Indiana Conference, is an outstanding conference. It’s just outgrown us, and I think it’s time for us to move on.”