Journal Express, Knoxville, IA

August 28, 2012

Should Knoxville switch conferences?

Steve Woodhouse

Knoxville — As enrollment in Knoxville Schools continues to decline, the district is at a crossroads not only academically, but athletically as well. The South Central Conference (SCC) has invited the district to switch its athletic affiliation from the Little Hawkeye Conference (LHC) to theirs. 

Knoxville was a member of the SCC until the mid-1990s, when they were respectfully asked to leave because the smaller schools in the SCC found it difficult to compete with the numbers Knoxville, Pella and Oskaloosa were boasting. Today, Knoxville has become the small school, finding difficulty in competition, as a member of the LHC. 

Knoxville's enrollment, at the high school level, is at 425, making it the smallest public school in the LHC. (Pella Christian has 187.) Dallas Center-Grimes plans to join the LHC next year, and its enrollment is at 468. The largest school in the LHC is Newton, with 666. 

If Knoxville switched to the SCC, it would be the largest school in the conference. The next closest is Centerville, with 309. 

Activities Director Randy Wilson sent information regarding the proposed conference change to 22 of his coaches. Of those 22, Wilson said 20 would support a move to the SCC. The two who want to stay in the LHC have consistently winning teams. 

Wilson told the school board last night that, at the Middle School level, some LHC schools are seeking A, B, C and D games. Knoxville's numbers can provide, at most, A and B games. The feeling among coaches, according to Wilson, is that they would have a better chance at success at the varsity level if they return to the SCC. 

"I don't want to sway anything here," Wilson said. "We're not a doormat (in the LHC)." 

There is a chance that increased success at the lowest levels of sports, in seventh grade, could lead to greater school pride and participation in sports as students progress. Wilson told the board that if Knoxville switches conferences, local rivals such as Pella, Pella Christian, PCM, Oskaloosa and Newton, would continue to be played. 

Superintendent Randy Flack said the staff is not trying to rush the board to a decision. He added that the SCC schools provided good contests and good crowds.

"I'm in agreement," Director Mark Mahoney said. "I liked the old SCC." 

Mahoney does not believe the enrollment numbers bode well for Knoxville's future in the LHC. He would like the conference change to be open to discussion with parents and the community. 

"We're a lot closer to that size then we are to some of those in the Little Hawkeye Conference," Director Leslie Miller said. "It could be tough for those kids going forward." 

Director Mike Helle said his biggest concern is stability in the conference. He said he would be more excited about a switch, if the SCC also reached out to Carlisle and Winterset. 

KHS Principal Kevin Crawford is not in favor of switching conferences.

"I don't want to jump too soon," Crawford said. Most of the schools in the SCC are Class 2A, while Knoxville is Class 3A. His concern is that if Knoxville's conference is filled with smaller schools, teams may not be prepared to face teams from larger schools in state tournaments. As a member of the LHC, Knoxville has sent 35 teams to state tournaments. 

The board took no action on this, other than to direct staff to continue to examine the issue. For a full report on the school board, pick up a copy of the Aug. 31 Journal-Express.