On Monday night, the Osage Community School Board of Education rejected the Top of Iowa Conference’s proposal for the school to transfer divisions.
Osage, currently a Top of Iowa Conference member, is in the TIC East division, and on May 19th, the conference proposed a plan for Osage to move to the west division. The Osage school board on Monday put a kibosh to that plan, voting against the move.
“The board asked superintendent Barb Schwamman to continue to look at all opportunities and options moving forward (related to conference realignment),” said Coloff Media staff member Nolan Peters who attended the meeting.
Conference President Darwin Lehmann, the superintendent at Forest City (West) and Central Springs (East), announced the proposal with a press release on May 19th, after it was rumored – and later confirmed by KIOW – that conference realignment talks had been happening.
“As the superintendents discussed conference realignment implications, we feel that this proposal best meets the goals of Top of Iowa Conference, which include ensuring competitive opportunities for students as well as considerations relating to district travel,” said Lehmann in the May 19th release.
Along with this proposal from the TIC, Osage was also seriously considering moving to the North East Iowa Conference. After the removal of Waverly Shell-Rock, the NEIC will be down to just five members. And seeing no other school invited to NEIC – North Fayette Valley, Sumner-Fredericksburg, MFL-MAR-MAC, and Oelwein have shown interest, Osage was the last hope for the NEIC to expand before the 2023-2024 school year. The board didn’t vote on the move to the NEIC, and the invitation doesn’t have an expiration date, leaving Osage the option to decide later if they’d like to leave the TIC and head further east.
No expiration date. That was the common theme for conference realignment talks across the state. The TIC broke that theme in May. They gave Osage until July 1st to respond as they did on Monday night to their proposed plan.
The school board didn’t elaborate publicly on why they made their decisions, but travel was likely a factor. Travel would’ve significantly increased with a move to the west, including over 90-mile trips to Eagle Grove and Armstrong (North Union) and an over 80-mile trip to Algona (Bishop Garrigan), plus a 66-mile trip to Buffalo Center (North Iowa), and 60 miles to Britt (West Hancock). The NEIC could be a good fit at a later date for Osage, but for now, they will remain in the east.
Lehmann stated in his May 19th release that the TIC wasn’t exploring any other options for changes, so this decision may seem like everything is set in stone for now – though that’s not the case. In fact, conference realignment will remain unstable for the months ahead.
Waverly-Shell Rock is still looking for a home. Their removal from the NEIC sped the development of conference talks. KIOW sister station KCHA in Charles City reported that the WaMac Conference rejected WSR due to enrollment size and travel distance, among other reasons. They also tried to join the Mississippi Valley Conference (MVC) for wrestling only but were also rejected. The next step for the school is talking with the Iowa High School Athletic Association, and Iowa High School Girls Athletic Union, along with the Iowa State Board of Education, have the authority to place Waverly Shell Rock into a conference, leaving the door open for WSR to return to the NEIC – though unlikely.
Along with the uncertainty regarding WSR, three schools in the Top of Iowa Conference other than Osage have invitations to another conference still on the table. North Butler, Nashua-Plainfield, and Rockford have until September to decide if they want to accept invitations to the Iowa Star Conference. Since receiving the invitation, the North Butler school board – according to meeting minutes – hasn’t even discussed the possibility of leaving. As for Rockford and Nashua-Plainfield, they haven’t been public on if they would like to change or not. The schools share a superintendent, so they could be a package deal. If any of those schools decided to join the already 14-team league, they would do so for the 2024-2025 school year.
Riceville, a current member of the Iowa Star, was included in the proposal declined on Monday by the Osage school board. The condition for Riceville to receive a TIC invite was Osage moving to the west. When KIOW spoke with superintendent Lehmann, he indicated that at this time, that would be the only change to allow Riceville an invitation to the conference. Osage’s superintendent Schwamman is also a shared superintendent with Riceville – who hasn’t indicated they wanted an invitation to the Top of Iowa Conference.
Osage, along with three members of the current NEIC, were also invited to the Upper Iowa Conference. The Osage school board hasn’t entertained any discussion on the UIC, and that invitation is set to expire in eight days on June 30th.
As for now, everything will stay the same. Will the TIC make it to a decade with the same membership?