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Larry Peterson - Straight Shots

Orient-Macksburg scrambles to find a new conference home

In my time working in southwest Iowa, I’ve seen the Hawkeye 8 Conference become the Hawkeye 10 — soon to be 11 with the addition of Council Bluffs St. Albert — and I’ve seen the Tall Corn Conference morph into what became the Pride of Iowa Conference.

One constant, since I started working at the Atlantic News-Telegraph in 1980, was covering teams in the Rolling Hills Conference. For Atlantic, I covered Walnut, Exira, Elk Horn-Kimballton, Anita and C&M. I’d make trips to Orient-Macksburg and Bridgewater-Fontanelle, not realizing that someday I’d be covering those athletes for the Creston News Advertiser. (B-F merged with Greenfield to form Nodaway Valley in 1993.)

Soon, there will be no Rolling Hills teams to cover.

The Rolling Hills Conference, organized in the late 1970s, will be dissolving after the 2012-13 school year. For a time, that left one area school — Orient-Macksburg — on the outside looking in as wide-scale conference realignment began taking shape in southwest Iowa. Kim DeJongh, O-M athletic director, admits being concerned that the Bulldogs wouldn’t have a league to play in.

But those fears appear to have been alleviated by news that the Bluegrass Conference athletic directors voted 7-1 to accept O-M beginning in the fall of 2013. There was no such approval given for three other Des Moines private schools from the Rolling Hills wanting to make the same move.

Nothing is official until the Bluegrass Board of Control (member school superintendents) holds a meeting next fall on the requests.

“We had a meeting last spring and talked about it,” said Jerry Shields, Murray athletic director. “We said we’d be glad to have Orient-Macksburg come in. We have nine schools now, and the AD’s voted to have O-M make it 10.”

The fate of Ankeny Christian Academy, Iowa Christian Academy of West Des Moines, and Grandview Park Baptist of the east Des Moines area is still uncertain. They’d like to join the Bluegrass.

The current makeup of the conferences being discussed, and their enrollment figures in grades 9-11, used for sports classification purposes, is as follows:

ROLLING HILLS — Exira/Elk Horn-Kimballton (105), Glidden-Ralston (88), CAM (Anita) (79), Adair-Casey (78), Iowa Christian Academy (61), East Greene of Grand Junction (44), Orient-Macksburg (37), Paton-Churdan (36) and Walnut (31).

BLUEGRASS — Twin Cedars of Bussey (112), Lamoni (86), Melcher-Dallas (73), Moravia (72), Murray (72), Moulton-Udell (50), Seymour (47), Mormon Trail of Garden Grove (42), and Diagonal (28).

Now, some other issues come into play. East Greene is leaving to join forces with Jefferson-Scranton. Likewise, Walnut is combining with AHST (Avoca, Hancock, Shelby, Tennant). Meanwhile, Grandview Park Baptist (enrollment 80) is joining the Rolling Hills for the 2012-13 school year.

As you can see, Orient-Macksburg would be in the lower part of the Bluegrass in terms of size, above Diagonal, but its elementary enrollment indicates growth, and the school was likewise one of the smaller third of schools in the Rolling Hills. There isn’t much change.

The travel situation could be surprising to some, considering the far southeast location of Bluegrass schools such as Moulton-Udell and Twin Cedars.

“In terms of distance traveled, the Rolling Hills was actually 15 miles further (per year),” said Doug Latham, Orient-Macksburg superintendent. “There is one extra school in the Rolling Hills, and when East Greene and Glidden-Ralston came in, that changed the complexion of our conference. This (Bluegrass) is a nice fit for us.”

In its earlier days, the Rolling Hills was primarily a hub of small schools in Adair, Cass and Shelby counties. Going north, and to the private schools in Des Moines, drastically changed the once condensed nature of the league. No longer were they all neighbors.

The far western schools such as CAM, Adair-Casey and Exira/Elk Horn-Kimballton became intrigued by talk of a new conference being discussed for western Iowa. From a geographic standpoint, it made more sense to them, and that, in turn, started the ball rolling for the other Rolling Hills schools to start developing an exit strategy.

The Rolling Valley Conference will begin in the 2013-14 school year. The new 11-team league will consist of former Western Valley Conference schools Ar-We-Va, Boyer Valley, Charter Oak-Ute, West Harrison and Woodbine; as well as former Rolling Hills Conference schools Glidden-Ralston, Paton-Churdan, Exira/EH-K, Adair-Casey and CAM (Anita and C&M merged in 1989.) Also in the new league is Coon Rapids-Bayard.

The conference realignment began in 2008, when the former Boyer Valley Conference merged with the Maple Valley Conference to form the two-division, 16-team Western Valley Conference. The current WVC is in its fourth year of existence, and will disband after the spring of 2013.

A year before that, Logan-Magnolia and IKM-Manning are moving to the Western Iowa Conference. Then, the north division of the WVC, along with Whiting and West Monona, will return to the Maple Valley Conference.

The new league wasn’t realistic for Orient-Macksburg, given the far western edge of Iowa as a base for many of its schools. One possibility was the Corner Conference — not much better from a travel standpoint, since Stanton will be the farthest east of all the schools when Villisca merges with Corning.

The Bluegrass was the better choice, even with a trip of 130 miles to Moulton-Udell and nearly that to Twin Cedars. Other schools, like Murray and Diagonal, are much closer and more familiar to Bulldog fans.

DeJongh said the spring was a whirlwind of activity, not long after a January meeting in which principals indicated a desire for the Rolling Hills to stay together.

“At the very end of March and early April, we received an e-mail from the CAM principal that they were leaving and the school board already approved it,” DeJongh said. “We also found out Adair-Casey, Exira/Elk Horn-Kimballton and Gidden-Ralston were also probably leaving and their boards had pretty much approved it. That left us, Paton-Churdan and the Des Moines schools to decide what to do.”

P-C felt the only viable option was to petition to the new Rolling Valley League, and it was accepted. Rather than try to find new members for the Rolling Hills, O-M and the other remaining schools decided to start looking for a new home.

•••

Meanwhile, there’s a slight coaching shake-up at Orient-Macksburg. DeJongh said Steve Tussey has resigned as head boys basketball coach, but will remain on staff as counselor. Assistant Drew Dornack is moving to the head coach position.

Also, Bill Huntington has taken a position at Southwestern Community College, where he will coach both track and cross country. His track and girls basketball positions at O-M have not been filled yet.

Contact the writer:

Twitter: @larrypeterson

Email: lpeterson@crestonnews.com

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