The Three Rivers Athletic Conference will move to an open conference with no divisions beginning with the 2015-16 school year.
When the Three Rivers opened its doors for expansion to take in Hall, Princeton, St. Bede, Orion, Sherrard and Rockridge this school year, original plans called for the league to play with North-South divisions for all sports but football in 2013-14 and move to an East-West alignment for two years. Then it would make a lasting decision.
This decision, which passed by 9-6 vote in the recent conference meeting of school officials, has accelerated the plans for league alignment. The four local schools had a split decision with Bureau Valley and St. Bede in favor and Hall and Princeton opposed.
The move did not come without some strong opposition. Morrison principal Scott Vance informed the league if the move should pass Morrison would begin to explore other conference options.
Vance cited four reasons to Morrison’s disapproval, which their school board discussed in open session.
• Negative impact on academics with increased travel time.
• Student safety with longer trips during winter months.
• Decrease in the opportunity for conference championships with the new alignment.
• Increase in cost due to longer trips.
Hall and Princeton sided with Morrison expressing similar concerns.
Hall superintendant Mike Struna said he voted no, but told fellow conference officials Hall would fully support whatever decision was made.
Struna was concerned about long travels on school nights, citing seven bus trips over an hour. In an East-West format, Hall would not have those trips, he said. Struna also expressed concerns some parents would not be able to see their kids play, citing an example of having only two parents make one trip this year.
Princeton principal Andy Berlinski also expressed concerns with late night travels for students and long distances.
“We had to travel near Hannibal, Mo., to play football (in the West Central Conference). We didn’t want to travel like that again when we could play teams in our division like Hall, Bureau Valley, Kewanee and St. Bede that are 15 minutes away,” Berlinski said.
SBA athletic director Tom McGunnigal, however, was happy to see the conference become one.
“As a coach and athletic director, I’m in favor of it,” he said. “It just seemed to be right, playing everyone, seeing everybody. I like the idea of playing everybody one time. It will unify everybody, and no one will feel excluded or secluded.”
McGunnigal said it will be nice to have a true conference champion and not “splitting things up.”
Bureau Valley was also in full support of the move, athletic director Jeff Ohlson said.
“This is a great thing for our conference. The passage of this vote allows us for conference to move forward in unison making it one of the best small conferences in the state,” Ohlson said. “The conference will battle test its schools and allow them to perform successfully in the postseason. As a coach, it will allow teams and players to play a lot of completion within the conference schedule, and allow your team to be ready for the post season.”
Ohlson said the alignment as one will provide for long standing rivalries to continue and allow for the development of new ones.
Hall athletic director Eric Bryant Jr. agreed that as a coach and an AD, the move is “going to be good for our teams from a competition standpoint.”
McGunnigal said football will continue to play in the North-South format for the foreseeable future. With divisions, each team will play six conference games and three crossovers each year. Some of the crossover games will change by a two-year rotation.
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