Journal Express, Knoxville, IA

September 25, 2012

Coaches support athletic conference move

Steve Woodhouse

Knoxville — Last night was the first opportunity the public had to address the Knoxville School Board regarding a possible change in athletic conference, from the Little Hawkeye Conference (LHC) to the South Central Conference (SCC). 

The SCC has invited Knoxville to rejoin its former conference. Regarding high school enrollment, Knoxville's numbers more closely resemble those of the members of the SCC than the LHC. Coaches in attendance Monday night supported the move.

"We struggle getting the girls there in the numbers," Volleyball Coach Eric Fee said. "I think we are competitive in volleyball, but average at best." He believes if Knoxville moves to the SCC, it will be stronger in the conference, which could make a difference regarding the postseason.

"It's a huge win-win for our program," Fee said. Girls' Basketball Coach Jim Uitermarkt agreed.

"I don't think my basketball schedule would change a whole lot," Uitermarkt said. He, as well as Activities Director Randy Wilson, have spoken to people in the community. Most of them favor returning to the SCC. Uitermarkt would not consider the return as "stepping down," but rather putting Knoxville where it belongs. School spirit may also be lifted through a move.

Director Mike Helle pointed out that the community showed strong support for the girls' basketball team, when it made the state tournament in 2010. 

"There has been a significant change," Baseball Coach Joel Johnson said. "We're not nearly as large as we were." 

Johnson believes Knoxville would be a better match for the SCC. He does not think Knoxville compares with towns the size of Norwalk and other members of the LHC.

"I think we fit in much better with the South Central Conference," Johnson said. 

Helle pointed out, as Wilson has in the past, that if Knoxville switches athletic conferences, teams can still schedule non-conference games with longstanding rivals such as Pella. Old rivalries from the SCC still exist between Knoxville and teams there when they play. 

Wilson also told the board that, when he looks at the Knoxville Athletic Hall of Fame, most of the members received their accolades when Knoxville was in the SCC.

"I don't think the South Central Conference hurt us," Wilson said. 

Rob Jones, the only parent to speak out at last night's meeting, believes Knoxville suffers from apathy. He does not favor a change to the SCC because he works in Des Moines and would have to travel further to attend out-of-town games. Most SCC schools are south of Knoxville. 

"I don't want to drive an extra 11.5 miles," Jones said. While he mentioned that aspect, the lack of participation and the apathy are what the board took from his comments. 

Board President Leslie Miller suggested reaching out to sixth grade students, the first opportunity students have to play in school-sponsored sports, to get them involved. Board members also believe that the challenging economic times may hinder activity participation. From a socioeconomic standpoint, Helle believes Knoxville is a better fit with the SCC.

Director Tim McDonald thinks lack of participation may be due, in part, to the district's struggles to find coaches. Parental support is also key to successful sports programs. 

The LHC schedule for the 2013-14 season is already set, and includes Knoxville as a member. Superintendent Randy Flack and Wilson do not want the board to rush into a decision. The earliest Knoxville would be able to move, without causing a disruption, would be the fall of 2014. 

The board also intends to have Flack request that the SCC reinstate art and musical competitions within the conference. Knoxville students currently participate and excel in such competitions in the LHC. 

Permission given to plan trip

In other board action, permission was given to KHS Band Director Ben Varner to continue planning the band's trip to New Orleans. Varner, as well as board members, see the potential for educational and fun opportunities for band members on this trip. A fund raiser to help the students pay for the trip is scheduled to kick off Nov. 21. Band members will sell cookie dough.

Look for full reports on the board meeting in the Sept. 28 Journal-Express.