By James Costello
LAKEVILLE — Most observers of the ongoing Northern State Conference break-up considered LaVille’s departure from the conference pretty much a done deal. On Friday, with the deadline to quit or stay imminent, LaVille AD Will Hostrawser made the announcement that many were already expecting.
LaVille joined Triton, Culver Community and Knox as the latest member of the NSC to announce its plans to join a new conference, scheduled for official formation in 2015-16, in a press conference at the Class 2A high school Friday afternoon. The school, a charter member of the current manifestation of the NSC which was founded in 1966, will now compete in a new conference for the first time in 47 years. The announcement leaves the NSC membership cut in half, with New Prairie, Jimtown, John Glenn and Bremen remaining.
“We feel that it’s in our best interest. We had polls over the internet on our website, we had people take surveys for their interest in our last home football game, and they were overwhelmingly in favor of making the transition to a conference that’s basically comprised of schools more similar to our size,” said Hostrawser of his decision, which will become official with a Union North School Board vote Sept. 12. “Probably the biggest deciding factor in this move has to do with competitiveness. We are constantly trying to build up LaVille’s reputation in terms of academics and athletics, and I think if we can put our kids into what we deem a little more competitive situation, we have a better chance of getting more student-athletes involved in all sports, which in turn is going to help us academically.
“Our thinking as a group — as an administrative team, as teachers as coaches and as student-athletes — is that this is the right move for us.”
LaVille’s move from the conference into the new, as-yet unnamed league alongside Knox, Triton, Culver Community, Midwest Conference schools Caston, Pioneer and Winamac and independent North Judson-San Pierre will become final in two years in the 2015-16 school year, per NSC bylaws. If the Northern State Conference can find new schools to fill the void left by the recent shakeups, there is a possibility the new league might come into existence even sooner.
“By the NSC bylaws we have a two-year window, and the reason this all came crashing down really quick was because we would like this to be year one, year two would be the next year, and then the following year this conference would come into effect — 2015-16 is the target date,” Hostrawser said.
“Not that this couldn’t happen sooner. We all have really good relationships inside the Northern State Conference. There’s a lot of mutual respect between administrators, and we’ve sat down at the table numerous times and talked about it.”
The origins of the new conference can be traced back to a little more than a year ago, when North Judson-San Pierre’s application to join the NSC was rejected. Culver, which had been less than satisfied with recent finishes in the Northern State standings, began talks with nearby North Judson, and Culver High School Principal Albert Hanselman and AD/ head football coach Andy Thomas became the driving force behind the new conference.
“If we back up a year, a year and a half or so, North Judson had an interest in getting into the Northern State Conference. The board voted not to accept their entry simply because they did not want to go to a nine-team model. We were looking at a 10th team possibly to come in, and that all just kind of dissipated,” said Hostrawser. “Culver last year indicated some competitiveness issues. They felt that they had a very strong group of kids last year athletically and they didn’t really compete at the level I think that they might have thought they would, therefore they were kind of exploring their options. I do know that they applied to be a member of a new conference, and that fell through, and from that application talks kind of spawned and everything kind of fell into place.”
The impetus behind the new conference is fair play, say ADs and coaches.
Under the current NSC, LaVille is sixth out of eight in student enrollment. The disparity in size would likely have become even greater as the schools the NSC is now pursuing for new membership are Class 3A or greater in size, according to Hostrawser and other area officials. The move by Triton Monday would have left LaVille the only remaining 1A football program in a league with 4A New Prairie and 3A John Glenn and Jimtown. Class 2A Bremen, with a student enrollment of 505, a little fewer than 100 students more than LaVille, now becomes the smallest holdover to the NSC field.
“I believe our football winning percentage over the last 10 years is .321, and our basketball percentage is a fuzz under 48 percent or something like that,” Hostrawser said. “Now recently here that’s increased and hopefully we can get football moving in the right direction as well. Our average finish in the boys all-sports race I believe was seventh, and the girls was sixth over the last 10 seasons. There is a factor that comes into it, and I’m calling it the competitiveness factor. When you walk off a bus for boys and girls track with 10 to 12 athletes, and you’re facing a New Prairie squad that has close to 100, it’s hard to overcome that.
“In a smaller school, you have what we call the athletic pendulum, and it swings. When you have a limited amount of enrollment, a smaller amount, that pendulum swing is wider. So your chances of having a good bunch of athletes if you will tend to be a longer spread in time compared to a New Prairie where you have such a large school population to where that’s going to be narrowed up a little bit.”
That fairness or competitiveness factor is one reason why Lancer athletes and coaches say LaVille’s decision to join the new conference just makes sense.
“As a senior it won’t affect me, but at a small school there are a lot of younger kids that are playing with me and underclassmen that get to play at the varsity level. For their sake, I feel like its a good move to play smaller schools,” said three-sport LaVille athlete Cameron Gurtner, the Lancers’ quarterback, a guard on the school’s sectional championship basketball team and a regional-qualifying golfer. “If we’re competitive enough, we can compete with the bigger schools, but at a small school it’s always better to play schools your size.”
Even head basketball coach Michael Edison, an outspoken proponent of a return to the old single-class state basketball tournament, was on board with the move.
“I do like to play those bigger teams that can jump higher, run faster, maybe are better athletes. I like that challenge as well, but I don’t think we’re going to lose out on that in basketball,” said Edison. “We’re going to be a part of a different conference, but we’re still going to have the opportunity to play in the Bi-County, to play these same teams that are in the NSC now. We’re going to have that same opportunity to schedule the Glenns and Bremens just for the rivalry. So I don’t feel like we’re going to lose that. I feel like it’s going to give all our teams a chance to compete in all sports for a conference championship.”
LaVille’s move into the new league would have a negative impact in driving distance to some of its conference competitors, which are at greater distances from some of the schools the Lancers currently face and, therefore, on timing issues as the school tries to get student-athletes back home in a timely fashion. That impact could be felt in start times for certain athletic events, and Hostrawser and his coaches will try to keep transportation costs down with some creative scheduling that could include carpooling for more boys/ girls basketball doubleheaders and even some tripleheader junior high events.
“One of the things that we looked at is in the major sports those (new conference) events will be on the weekends. We’ve already talked about models of boy-girl doubleheaders for basketball that include the junior high as well as the junior varsity. It’s kin of the NIC model if you will, where they have the JV girls play while the varsity boys play and visa versa,” said Hostrawser. “We’ve also talked about some football scheduling things that include things like junior high and JV football games all being done on Saturdays, where you’d have tripleheaders, and it would just be LaVille versus Pioneer days and they would come here or we would go down there.
“Everybody is cognizant of the increase in mileage, and we understand that we’re educators and we need our kids home at a decent hour, and we’re going to schedule accordingly. That was a selling point for me personally.”