As schools have re-organized and in some cases, closed their doors completely and dissolved, one casualty that is easily forgotten is the athletic conference that the school participated in. For one storied conference, reorganizations and sharing agreements had all but dealt a deathblow to the organization.
At the end of November, the North Union schools - the shared conglomeration of Armstrong-Ringsted, North Kossuth and Sentral of Fenton, applied for and were approved for membership in the North Iowa Conference. That membership will become official for the 2014 school year.
Couple that loss of three members with the closure of Twin River Valley and South Clay schools and the recent whole grade sharing agreement between Ventura and Garner-Hayfield, and the Cornbelt Conference is rapidly running out of member schools.
Currently, West Bend-Mallard/Gilmore City-Bradgate, Sioux Central, Clay Central-Everly, Harris-Lake Park, Graettinger-Terril/Ruthven-Ayrshire and Corwith-Wesley-LuVerne remain out of a conference that once had two divisions of competition and 12 teams.
While Graettinger-Terril and Ruthven-Ayrshire remain members of the Cornbelt, they are involved in full sports sharing, turning two schools into one entity for athletics. Other schools are looking into possibilities for sharing of programs as their student populations decline, and the current line of thought in the Cornbelt is that the storied conference is not long for this world.
For North Union, three small schools joining in whole-grade sharing made for a much larger school, and suddenly made the Warriors the largest school in the Cornbelt. A larger squad, playing against smaller teams with fewer participants can create difficulties in fielding enough players at the various levels of competition, specifically junior varsity and freshmen levels.
For North Union to join the North Iowa Conference and larger schools, such as Lake Mills and Mason City Newman Catholic will provide more opportunities for the sub-varsity level competitors. Along with North Union, Bishop Garrigan of Algona also applied for membership in the North Iowa Conference as well. in the past month.
For the record, the North Iowa Conference Superintendents voted 8-0 at their December meeting to admit both schools to the league, effective the Fall of 2014.
The Lakes Conference, of which Emmetsburg is one of the founding members, saw some defections from its ranks in recent history, starting with the loss of Sibley-Ocheyedan in the 1980's. Most recently, Sheldon departed the Lakes just a few years ago to join the Siouxland Conference. In the meantime, the Lakes added Western Christian of Hull and today exists with Spencer, Spirit Lake, Estherville Lincoln Central, Storm Lake, Cherokee, LeMars and Western Christian and Emmetsburg.
Overtures were made a few years back for Emmetsburg to join the Twin Lakes conference but no action was ever taken. There have also been rumors of LeMars possibly looking to align with the Sioux City metro schools, but again, talk is cheap the proof is in the pudding, so to speak.
One consideration in many of these issues is travel distance for schools for their athletic contests. For Emmetsburg, a trip to LeMars is in the 90-mile one-way range, as the two schools are on the opposite sides of the conference.
But, travel is nothing new district football has created 90, 100-plus mile one-way trips for teams each Fall. It's a price we pay, living in a rural state.
So will the Cornbelt Conference survive?
A good question. As an old Pirate, I remember wistfully some of those old rivalries with the Cattlefeeders, Minutemen, Hurricanes, Wolves, Great Danes, Rams, Ducks, Tigers, Bulldogs, Satellites and Spartans, to name a few. But times change and like it or not, we must change along with them. But, it is sad to think that we may see another piece of local history quietly fade away.