State of the Lakes
Potential Le Mars departure could spark interest
After receiving a formal invitation to join the Missouri River Athletic Conference in late fall of 2017, the Le Mars Community School District’s board of education is expected to vote on the potential move Monday evening.
A Bulldog departure would leave the Lakes Conference with just six teams, but Spencer Activities Director Ryan Sweeney doesn’t see that as a death blow to the league.
“It’s not probably ideal, but I will say that I think everybody else in the conference has made it pretty clear that they’re committed to the Lakes,” Sweeney said. “So, we feel pretty good with the six teams right now, and we certainly could make six teams work. The conference I was in previously had six teams for a while, and you can make it work. Basketball is the challenge.”
“With a 21 game schedule, when you start to drop below seven in your conference, it gets more challenging to get non-conference dates and to get non-conference dates that you want where you want them without traveling two or three hours,” Sweeney said of the basketball schedule. “So that’s a concern. That was one of the first things we talked about. It’s still possible with six teams, but with a seven team (conference), everybody’s been pretty comfortable with that. We’ve been able to make the non-conference portion work. In our other athletic parts of things, you can mix and match pretty easily when you talk about volleyball and wrestling and baseball and softball. Basketball is usually the big sticker.”
Le Mars, being the largest school in the Lakes, has expressed concerns about the declining size of the remaining schools in the conference which are Cherokee, Estherville Lincoln Central, Spencer, Spirit Lake, Storm Lake and Western Christian.
Additionally, a move to the MRAC provides Le Mars with five opponents less than 30 minutes away. The MRAC is currently comprised of four Sioux City schools — Bishop Heelan, East, North and West as well as Sergeant Bluff-Luton, Council Bluffs Abraham Lincoln and Council Bluffs Thomas Jefferson.
“Everything I’m hearing is Le Mars is going to go,” Sweeney said. “When you can play five schools within 30 minutes, and your two other trips are Council Bluffs where you’re on the Interstate, it does make sense. … Travel-wise it makes sense, and size-wise they’re going to fit right in there. They’ll be just fine, and they obviously already have some rivalries with those schools, so it’s a natural fit.”
Following Emmetsburg’s announcement to leave the Lakes Conference two years ago, the league began sending out formal invitations in an attempt to get back up to being an eight team conference.
According to Storm Lake superintendent Carl Turner, invites went to schools in the Siouxland, Raccoon River and North Central conferences, but no specific schools were named.
The Siouxland Conference includes former Lakes Conference members Sheldon and Sibley-Ocheyedan as well as Okoboji, Boyden-Hull, Central Lyon, George-Little Rock, MOC-Floyd Valley, Rock Valley and West Lyon.
The North Central Conference includes Algona, Clarion-Goldfield-Dows, Clear Lake, Fort Dodge St. Edmond, Humboldt, Hampton-Dumont, Iowa Falls-Alden and Webster City.
The Raccoon River Conference includes Adel-DeSoto-Minburn, Ballard, Bondurant-Farrar, Boone, Carlisle, Carroll, Perry and Winterset.
Sweeney alluded to the schools receiving invitations to the Lakes as being 2A or 3A and residing in a roughly 60-mile radius and thinks a Le Mars exit could create interest in a smaller school unwilling to duke it out with the big ‘Dogs.
“I think with the possibility of Le Mars going which is a bigger school, it may open the eyes of some of the local 2A schools that say, ‘Well, it’s not quite as top heavy,’” Sweeney said. “And travel-wise there are some schools that could possibly make sense. … I think the Le Mars decision could spark other decisions.”
As for any major shakeups, a Lakes and Siouxland merger for instance, Sweeney sees anything like that as very unlikely.
“I don’t think so,” he said.”We’ve talked about a lot of stuff, and we’ve heard rumors such as that, but there’s never been any formal discussions about making a Siouxland and Lakes crossover. There haven’t been any formal conversations about that, but yeah, we’ve heard some of those same things.”
Despite the potential upcoming conference shake-ups, Sweeney definitely sees the Lakes staying alive.
“I know we’re committed. Storm Lake is committed. Spirit Lake is committed. ELC is committed. Hull is committed. Cherokee is committed,” Sweeney said. “So, the six schools, besides Le Mars, all made a commitment to be a part of the Lakes. … (Storm Lake AD) Ty Seaman looked it up. The conference started in 1924 or something. The conference has been around forever, so there’s a long-standing tradition, a proud tradition, a lot of great rivalries within the conference that we’d rather not have to move on from.”
Regardless of the Le Mars decision on Monday night, the Bulldogs will be in the Lakes Conference for the 2018-19 school year, giving the league some time to address scheduling concerns and ideally gain a seventh and possibly even an eighth member if two schools make the move.
Sweeney also said he sees no reason for the state to try and step in as long as the league maintains six members.
“The ideal situation, we’d love to be at seven or eight teams,” Spencer’s AD said. “I really do think Le Mars is probably going to go, so there’s a possibility of another team or two (joining). Eight teams is nice because of the even number on the scheduling end of things. Seven is very good. Six we can still do. Get below that, and it becomes a crapshoot.”
LAKES CONFERENCE AT A GLANCE
The Lakes Conference was an eight team conference for much of its history. Its core members, from the 1930s through the 1980s, were:
• Estherville (Estherville Lincoln Central)
• Sibley (Sibley-Ocheyedan)
• Spirit Lake
• Storm Lake
— Sibley-Ocheyedan left for the Siouxland Conference in the 1990-91 school year. Le Mars brought membership back up to eight in 1993-94.
— Hull-based Western Christian joined the Lakes Conference as a ninth member at the start of the 1997-98 school year.
— Sheldon's departure after the 2008-09 school year brought membership back down to eight.
— Emmetsburg left after the 2016-17 school year to create the current seven-member Lakes Conference alignment.
— Le Mars is expected to vote on a potential move to the Missouri River Athletic Conference tonight.