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Everything in the Okaw Valley Conference is up in the air right now. Exactly what will happen with the conference is anyone’s guess at this point, but it is known that as many as seven teams are considering defecting and forming a new conference.
Argenta-Oreana, Central A&M, Meridian, Shelbyville, Sullivan, Tuscola and Warrensburg-Latham met separately last month to discuss issues about the league. The teams, mostly from Macon County and mostly with the smallest enrollments, are worried about the compeitive balance and travel times.
One solution for these schools would be to form a new league separate from the other five OVC schools. Bylaws within the OVC dictate a school must give two-year notice before leaving the league, meaning no school could depart before the 2014-15 school year.
All 12 OVC schools met on June 20 to discuss possible ways to reconcile the conference’s issues. The Decatur Herald and Review reported three or four solutions were presented but none could satisfy the needs of all of the schools. After the meeting, Maroa-Forsyth athletic director Josh Jostes told the Decatur Tribune the league as it stands is over.
Unity athletic director Scott Hamilton was not ready to confirm the OVC would be fracturing. He said nothing would be certain until the departing schools handed in resignation lettters. Hamilton remains committed to maintaining the OVC.
“I talked to our superintendent (Andrew Larson) after the meeting to see if we can’t go at this a little bit differently and try to keep this league alive,” he said.
With the announcement on June 20 that Decatur LSA and Oblong (smaller schools from Macon County) would be joining the Little Okaw Valley Conference beginning in the 2014-15 school year, the schools looking at departure might have received a setback. Among the other five teams, only Maroa-Forsyth (306 enrollment) is in the bottom half of the conference by numbers. The seven teams looking to depart the conference might have hoped to recruit one of those smaller Macon schools to join their new league.
The discrepancy between Unity (482 enrollment) and Central A&M (280 enrollment) is not lost on Hamilton. Though he wants to keep the conference together, he does not presume to speak to what is best for anyone other than Unity.
“It’s unfair for me or anyone else to say what we think is best for someone’s school. We get paid to make decisions that are best for our school,” he said. “I’m spending a lot of time trying to keep this together but with one eye toward the future if it doesn’t stay together.”
One reason Hamilton would like to keep the OVC together is because of the great competition teams have seen in the past few years. Between the schools, across all sports, 26 state titles have been won by OVC schools in the last five years.
The Okaw Valley Conference name carries a lot weight with it, as well, and many consider it one of the premier conferences in this region. Should the conference break apart, Hamilton expects the remaining teams – Unity, Clinton, Decatur St. Teresa, Maroa-Forsyth and Monticello – will retain the OVC name. With the name intact, the remaining schools could build an even stronger conference by adding additional area schools.
Hamilton did not want to identify any schools the conference would try to incorporate at this early stage. When asked about nearby rival St. Joseph-Ogden, however, he admitted the Spartans could be a consideration.
“I don’t think it’s a surprise that we would love to be back in a league with SJ-O. When realignment happened 5-6 years ago we didn’t want to leave SJ-O, but it just couldn’t work out,” he said. “We’ve maintained a great relationship since, and if this were to happen and we were to add them it would be a great thing for us.”
Unity and the other five OVC schools are in a holding pattern currently, waiting to find out what the seven smaller schools choose to do. Hamilton expects no official decisions to be made by those schools until near the beginning of the school year, in August.
Though there is nothing the OVC schools can do right now, they are not sitting on their hands. The schools met on Monday to discuss whom to invite to the OVC should openings arise. Hamilton says he does not want to be caught off guard if and when change becomes a necessity.
“We have to keep an eye on the future and if what [the seven small schools] want comes to fruition we can’t be left standing still,” he said.