WAVERLY, Iowa (KWWL)- Waverly-Shell Rock will need to find a new conference to play sports in after the Northeast Iowa Conference voted five to one to remove them on Friday.
The superintendents from Charles City, Howard Winneshiek (Crestwood), New Hampton and Waukon all voted for the resolutions, with Waverly-Shell Rock as the lone dissenting vote. The move becomes effective in June of 2023.
Ted Ihns, the Superintendent for Howard Winneshiek Schools, said it is about numbers. Waverly-Shell Rock is much larger than all of the other schools in the conference and is two or two and half times bigger than some of them.
"It does come down to competitiveness, we have 25 kids off for seventh-grade football, and they have 60 or whatever the numbers might be. It does become a disadvantage overall," Ihns said. "That wasn't necessarily a driving force in that, but it comes down to making sure that our kids are in a competitive league with schools that are very similar to our size, and right now, Waverly didn't fit that mold."
Waverly-Shell Rock has 596 students in grades 9-11, over 100 more than the next closest district in the conference, Decorah, with 430. Charles City has 399, Crestwood has 305, Waukon has 286 and New Hampton has 272.
Waverly-Shell Rock Athletics Director Greg Bodensteiner said those numbers are a little skewed because there are some big classes in the high school, but there are smaller classes behind them, and he expects the school to be back down around 550 in a few years.
"There's been stress on our league for several years," Bodensteiner said. "Our community is slowly growing, our school is slowly growing, and just about everybody else has slowly gotten smaller and it's created an insurmountable gap there."
Bodensteiner said the district was not surprised by the vote on Friday. He said Oelwein's departure from the NEIC to the North Iowa Cedar League set the conference shifting in motion.
"When Oelwein left, and we ultimately went down to a 6 team league, I think everybody in the Northeast Iowa conference knew the long-term sustainability of the conference probably wasn't there," he said.
Bodensteiner said the writing was on the wall when the Upper Iowa Conference invited ten schools, including New Hampton, Waukon and Crestwood to join the conference in February.
"Either some of those schools were going to go to the upper Iowa conference, and our league would cease to exist, or our league needed to make some moves to expand," he said. "We were going to be an insurmountable hurdle for expansion because all of those schools are smaller than what currently is the smallest school in our league. Given our BEDS number, that was going to be a hurdle that they weren't going to be able to overcome."
The NEIC now needs to attract new members. Without Waverly-Shell Rock, they only have five schools. If any of the three smaller schools switch to the Upper Iowa Conference, the NEIC would no longer be viable.
This week the conference sent invitations to MFL Marmac, North Fayette Valley, Oelwein, Osage and Sumner-Fredricksburg.
Ihns said his district are waiting on the others schools to respond to the invitation and keep the Northeast Iowa conference intact. If not, they are keeping other avenues open.
"If this were to come to fruition where we could get some other schools to join, is that something we want to do? And if not, what are the next steps?" he said. "I don't think any decisions have been firmly set in stone yet, but we as a school district are looking at our options on what the next steps are right now."
There have been complaints of bad sportsmanship by Waverly-Shell Rock in the past, but both Ihns and Bodensteiner said this move is not about that.
At the moment, Waverly-Shell Rock does not have a plan for its future, but Bodensteiner said the school board would recommend the next steps in finding a new league.
For the Go-Hawks, finding a new, long-term conference home may be challenging because Waverly is a unique community without another one around the is like it.
"We're either going to be bigger than most schools or way smaller one way or the other," he said. "There's just if there were a whole bunch of schools that were similar to our size, and they were within an hour away really shallow rock should be straightforward, we would try to go to that league, and we do everything we could, to try to get in there, but that place doesn't exist."
With any league they apply to, Bodensteiner expects there will be some hurdles like whether they have an even number of teams or have just undergone a change in schools in the conference.
If the Go-Hawks cannot find a new conference, they can file a grievance with the State Department of Education to allow them to come in and mediate.
"The biggest thing for us is figuring out what's best for Waverly-Shell Rock starting with the 2023-2024 school year," Bodensteiner said. "We got to look out for ourselves and do what's best for our school in our athletic and fine arts programs."