TIME OUT with Joe Flanagan

Change Is In The Air

Summer is relinquishing its grip, and with the fall season quickly approaching, winds of change are in the air.
Change, of course, is not that unusual. In fact, one could say change is perpetual. Little stays the same forever, and while changes may often be subtle and go unnoticed, they occur every minute of every day.
This is certainly true in athletics. Rosters, schedules, results. They all change year to year, season to season.
Sometimes, however, the changes are more significant than simply replacing familiar faces with new. This is a year in which area fans will notice some rather startling differences to our sporting landscape.
Big Red football is back on everyone’s mind at this time of year, and while we’ve known for some time now that Nebraska was joining the Big Ten Conference, we’re closer than ever to actually watching the Huskers invade Camp Randall Stadium for their first prime time conference battle, then welcoming the Ohio State to Memorial Stadium.
If that isn’t a seismic shift, I don’t know what is.

Mid-State, As Well

Closer to home, there has also been conference realignment. Thankfully, at the high school level, we’re spared the intrigue and acrimony that accompanied NU’s divorce from the Big 12.
Changes in the Mid-State have been made almost quietly, as the conference welcomes Crofton and O’Neill into the fold. Quiet and harmonious, maybe, but certainly notable and noticeable.
Boone Central AD Chuck Perone said earlier this week that O’Neill, who was basically without a previous conference affiliation, will compete in Mid-State athletics and activities immediately in 2011-12. On the other hand, Crofton, while a full-fledged Mid-State member now, is phasing out obligations to the NENAC and will likely not be part of conference championship events for another year.
As the Mid-State goes forward, it has become stronger and better with the addition of these schools. For many reasons, the expansion should be beneficial.

Crofton brings a healthy athletic program to the conference right from the start. Boone Central athletes have butted heads in recent years with some very tough Warrior football and basketball teams (girls and boys). Crofton has also had a dominant run in girls Class C cross country.
O’Neill’s athletic programs have struggled for a while now, overall, but many Albion fans can remember the days when the Eagles flew high in Class B and C1 competition. The Irish Capital is still a strong community and having a conference connection should only help O’Neill get back on track.

Future Outlook

For the conference as a whole, the additions of Crofton and O’Neill not only bring immediate benefits, but are a healthy hedge against the future. With longtime Mid-State schools West Point C.C. (now wishing to be known as Guardian Angels Central Catholic) and Hartington C.C. getting smaller and smaller, there’s no guarantee they can remain viable conference members in the long term.
West Point, whoops, Guardian Angels, has already dropped to Class D1 and is not even one of the larger schools in that class. Cedar Catholic is past the midpoint of Class C2 in football classification, closer to the lower end of the scale than the top.
Declining enrollment becomes a problem not only for the schools themselves, but eventually may make continued Mid-State affiliation prohibitive, as conference members are adversely affected in the NSAA power/wild card system for basketball and other sports. No one can accurately gauge what the future holds, but the addition of O’Neill and Crofton provides the Mid-State with schools near the top of their classifications, C1 and C2, respectively.
The conference borders have certainly expanded, particularly to the west, but many Mid-State schools were already playing the Eagles and Warriors to fill out schedules in various sports, so fans shouldn’t notice a big change in travel either.
It will take a few years getting used to seeing these new members in the conference basketball and volleyball tournaments and track/field championships, but it appears to be a good fit for both sides and should guarantee the Mid-State’s continuing status as one of Nebraska’s top mid-classification conferences.

Local Coop Begins

Of course, there are even further changes evolving locally this year as Boone Central and Newman Grove begin a cooperative effort in junior high sports, which will lead to the Boone Central/Newman Grove high school coop in 2012-13.
This certainly seems to be a trend among outstate Nebraska schools and communities continuing to battle declining population and enrollments.
Of course, Albion and Petersburg residents still vividly recall the formation of Boone Central Schools. While the new venture won’t be nearly as encompassing as a full merger for the Cardinals, it is going to be a major change for Newman Grove athletes, coaches and fans.
This probably wasn’t something Boone Central needed to do at this time. But, much like the Mid-State, it’s a proactive move to help assure the future.
Hopefully, the transition is a smooth and cordial one. No reason it shouldn’t be.
The key likely lies in the title of the venture itself – cooperative.
With cooperation and spirit, Boone Central/Newman Grove will be a healthy member of a healthy Mid-State Conference for many years to come.

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