THE EARLY LEAD: Is realignment in the HOIC’s future?
By BRANDON HURLEY
A relatively significant shakeup could be on the horizon in the Heart of Iowa Conference.
Greene County’s athletic conference is mulling realignment, adding potentially three, if not more, schools to its pool while perhaps losing one of its largest members.
The HOIC has ambitious dreams of returning to double digit membership as Gilbert’s fate became a lightening rod of discussion at the most recent conference meeting last month.
Gilbert, who has an enrollment of 337 students grades ninth through 11th, is contemplating a move out, citing continued growth of their community just a few miles north of Ames. Gilbert’s most likely destination would be the Raccoon River Conference, which houses similarly-sized schools such as Boone, Ballard, Carroll, Perry and ADM.
Three West Central Activities Conference schools could make the jump into the HOIC to offset Gilbert’s loss, each centrally located near the Des Moines metro and surrounding areas.
Van Meter is most likely the top choice. The suburban school a handful of miles west of Des Moines, has been on the rise for several years. Woodward-Granger could be another likely addition, as well as the private entity of Des Moines Christian, which would push the HOIC to 10 teams, factoring in the loss of Gilbert.
The three schools all classify within 2A and present appealing attributes to the Heart of Iowa Conference.
Van Meter’s athletic success (perhaps best known as Bob Feller’s Alma Mater) has come to a head over the last 24 months cemented by a pair of championships and several state tourney appearances.
The Bulldog softball team captured the 2016 softball state championship in 2A while the football team secured its first-ever football state championship in November. Van Meter punched their ticket to the boys’ state basketball tournament for the first time since the 1930s last March and are off to an 8-0 start and a No. 3 ranking in Class 2A this winter. The school district also qualified for state baseball in the spring and participated in the 2017 girls’ state basketball tournament.
Van Meter is situated just off Interstate 80, 15 minutes south of Waukee. The 10-team West Central Activities Conference also includes Ogden, Panorama, Madrid, AC/GC, Earhlam, Woodward Academy, and West Central Valley.
The Woodward-Granger Hawks have a strong wrestling program, led by Madrid sophomore Cody Fisher, who placed second at the 2017 tournament in Class 2A. Fisher is ranked second at 195 pounds midway through the 2017-18 season. The Hawks as a whole captured the WCAC title last spring. The W-G Hawks were also a force in baseball this past summer, winning their first 25 games and capturing a top five ranking. They reached the substate final before losing to Centerville. The W-G football team was 6-3 this past fall while their boys’ basketball is out to a 6-3 start this winter.
Des Moines Christian is located within the Des Moines metro in Urbandale, and is enjoying a highly successful boys’ basketball season. The Lions are ranked ninth in 2A with a 9-0 record and qualified for the 2016 state tournament. The DMC girls team qualified for the 2015 tournament while the Lions’ boys’ soccer team was a 2014 state qualifier.
Simply from a logistics stand point, a move to the HOIC would make sense, as the WCAC has teams spread all over Iowa, with annual trips to Stuart a bit of a chore. A majority of the WCAC schools also have enrollments below 200 kids grades 9-11, and while Van Meter (192) and Woodward-Granger (165) both peak below 200 as well, they are based in communities that are expanding. Granger is seeing residual effects from Grimes, Jester Park and the location near Highway 141, while Van Meter has become a destination for Iowans who work in and near Des Moines but want a smaller school feel. Woodward is on the edge of Dallas County, 15 minutes east of Perry.
Des Moines Christian hovers just above 200 students (202) but sits smack dab in the middle of a thriving suburb (Urbandale).
Aside from a logistical and geographical stand point, the addition of Van Meter and DMC to the HOIC would increase the conference’s credibly and legitimacy. Gilbert is a top notch school, who has a quality athletics department all the way through, but Van Meter has suddenly become the cream of the crop in Class 2A. Adding them and a few others is a big win for the league.
Greene County High School activities director Mitch Moore assured GC board members at a Dec. 20 meeting the Rams are staying put amid the possible changes. It’s a movement the school district needs to be apart of.
“It’s a conference that we want to be in,” he said. “It is important that we stay. We want to stay here, with teams in the Des Moines and central Iowa area.”
The general consensus at the conference meeting was Gilbert, indeed, is essentially all but gone. Gilbert’s population was at 1,126 as of the 2016 census, but draws many of its students from open enrollment in the surrounding communities.
“It’s very likely that they are leaving,” the Greene County football coach said. “It hasn’t been set in motion just yet, but they are probably moving to the Raccoon River Conference.”
North Polk (328 students) could leave as well, but they have not hinted in either direction as of late. Time will tell if the HOIC losses the Comets, who reside in Alleman and draw from Polk City. Alleman is roughly 15 minutes north of Ankeny.
The HOIC, ideally, would like to grow to 12 teams and return to it’s two division split similar to a few years back in 2011, which makes new additions a perfect fit.
The loss of Collins-Maxwell/Baxter when their sharing agreement dissolved last spring left the HOIC with just eight conference members and in need of at least one replacement member.
They may have found three.
Woodward-Granger and Van Meter wouldn’t be alone with enrollment below 200, South Hamilton is at 187, which would place W-G as the smallest member. Other potential candidates include West Marshall (State Center) and East Marshall (Legrand).
No timetable for the new additions has been set, but another conference meeting is scheduled for next week, which should produce more details, Moore said.
In the mean time, I say welcome these schools with open arms. They make sense geographically and provide one heck of a boost in competitiveness.
Now, we play the waiting game.