More than 25 years of history and the ensuing loyalty to the rivalries established during a quarter century of competition, just aren’t what they used to be. The Tri-Rivers Conference is teetering in a precarious situation after news that two schools will be leaving the league following next year.
On Tuesday, February 17th, during the regular scheduled meeting of the Milan C-2 Board of Education, the board voted to accept an invitation to join the Grand River Conference beginning in the 2016-2017 Academic Year.
“A change of this magnitude is both exciting and intimidating, but this change provides increased stability for the future of Milan C-2 Schools – both athletically and in band, choir, art and Scholar Bowl,” stated Dr. Ben Yocom Superintendent of Milan C-2 Schools. “The Milan C-2 School district has the utmost respect for the long-standing tradition of success instilled by the Tri-Rivers Conference and appreciates the last several years of membership.”
Putnam County will also be leaving the TRC to join the Wildcats in the Grand River Conference. Superintendent Heath Halley stated the Putnam County School Board voted 7-0 to support the merger of the two conferences, but voted 7-0 to join the Grand Rivers Conference if the merger failed.
The later is exactly what happened, as the announcements of the schools’ departures from the TRC came on the eve of a failed attempt to merge the Tri-Rivers and Lewis & Clark conferences.
Westran Superintendent Kelly Shelby indicated that his school’s board of education had voted down the merger proposal at its February 18th meeting, the same night the merger proposal was shot down by the Fayette School Board. That came on the heels of the February 9th meeting of the Salisbury School Board, where the merger was defeated by a 7-0 vote.
All three districts indicated travel concerns based on the distances between the two leagues’ member schools as the primary reason for voting down the merger.
The Paris and Marceline districts voted for the proposal, which would have required four of the conference’s current five schools to approve. Harrisburg, which will be joining the L&C next year, did not vote on the proposal.
Yocom indicated that the initial invitation from the GRC was submitted to Milan C-2 in December 2014 with an initial deadline to respond by February 1st, 2015.
“In an effort to keep the Tri-Rivers conference together and merge with the Lewis and Clark conference – the district requested an extension to the initial deadline,” stated Yocom. “The extension was granted through February 27th.”
In the meantime, superintendents within the Tri-Rivers and Lewis and Clark conferences met to discuss a proposed merger of the two leagues. A preliminary schedule was prepared by the districts’ athletic directors for consideration.
“The sample schedule offered little benefit to the Milan C-2 School District,” stated Yocom.
The Milan school leader also pointed out that the merger was officially on every board agenda for the Lewis and Clark conference and only two schools approved it, falling well short of the required 5/6 vote under the LCC bylaws.
“The concern about the future of other schools within the Tri-Rivers was sincerely considered and the board was torn about the decision,” said Yocom, “but we felt moving the district into a conference with more schools was in the district’s best interest for the future.”
Yocom indicated the primary reason his board chose to join the GRC was long-term stability and sustainability. The current GRC has fifteen (15) schools and possibly will soon have sixteen (16) schools, providing a stable future for the district.
That number did grow to 16 schools as on February 12th, Putnam County’s board voted to leave the Tri-Rivers Conference and accept the invitation to follow Milan to the Grand Rivers Conference.
The four remaining TRC schools, Scotland County, North Shelby, Knox County and Schuyler County, went back to the drawing board, resubmitting an appended merger proposal with the Lewis & Clark Conference, sans Milan and Putnam County.
Kelly indicated the L&C member schools superintendents and athletic directors would be meeting Tuesday, February 24th to act on the proposal.