Iowa City Regina’s Alex Balke shouted and celebrated with his football teammates the last two years in the UNI-Dome.
The senior receiver played on back-to-back Class 2-A state championship squads. His team was switched to a smaller class when the Iowa High School Athletic Association reconfigured the landscape.
Three of the six teams that are listed as No. 1 in the Des Moines Register’s preseason rankings dropped from larger classes because of enrollment changes. Class 3-A champ Union of LaPorte City fell to 2-A, Regina moved to 1-A and West Lyon of Inwood plummeted to Class A.
The trophies are the same size — but Balke said he’s heard an earful from fans eager to see his team stumble.
“If anything, going down to 1-A makes the pressure worse,” Balke said. “People think, ‘They just won two 2-A titles. They should be beating everybody at 1-A.’ “
His reaction? Turning inciting words to inspiration.
“Sometimes it isn’t bad to listen to some of that trash talk,” Balke said. “You can use it as motivation.”
The Register’s No. 1 teams: 4-A West Des Moines Valley, 3-A Decorah, 2-A Union, 1-A Regina, Class A West Lyon and eight-man Clarksville.
Across the state, other schools are adjusting to new faces and foes:
* Half of the teams in Class 4-A have been shuffled. The 18-team Central Iowa Metropolitan League and the Missouri River Activities Conference have been eliminated in a four-division, 24-team plan. The 24 teams in the eastern half of Iowa will continue to play in conferences.
* The number of teams playing in 1-A, 2-A and 3-A dropped by a total of 23 programs.
* Eight-player football swelled from 50 to 70 programs, including new varsity squads at Heartland Christian in Council Bluffs and Cedar Valley Christian in Cedar Rapids.
* Some schools went to new sharing operations: North Sentral Kossuth/Armstrong-Ringsted, Garner-Hayfield/Ventura and Essex/South Page of College Springs among them.
Urbandale coach Sam Anderson, whose team now plays in 4-A Division 1, said he was shocked to see his divisional lineup. His team will face last year’s winners of the CIML Metro (Des Moines Lincoln), the CIML Iowa Conference (state champion Valley), and the Missouri River Activities Conference (Sioux City East). Even more intimidating — the games will be played in a three-week span.
“You look at that and say, ‘God, is that who we want?’ ” Anderson said, “but it steps up the game a lot.”
Several long-time rivalries won’t be played this fall. Urbandale will not face foes such as Ankeny and Southeast Polk that it has known since the schools shared the same conference prior to the start of the playoff system in 1972.
Anderson did see other border battles continue. The J-Hawks will face neighbors Johnston, Des Moines Hoover and former CIML Central foes West Des Moines Dowling Catholic and Indianola.
“The state did a good job of preserving rivalries,” Anderson said.
This is the first time 4-A teams have entered a non-conference configuration. The eastern half of the state — the 14-school Mississippi Valley Conference and the 10-team Mississippi Athletic Conference — was left intact.
Anderson, who previously coached at West Delaware of Manchester, experienced a familiar feeling when he saw his schedule.
“Coming from 3-A, you’re never happy with who you get,” he said.
Union of LaPorte City earned the 3-A state title last fall. Now the team is facing a 2-A view.
Coach Joe Hadachek said he’s instructing his players to stay consistent to last year’s attitude — stay hungry and stay humble.
“We realize it’s different towns and different schools, but our approach is really the same,” Hadachek said.
Traditionally strong programs may play smaller schools, but that doesn’t mean any of the newcomers will be able to cruise to victories.
“There’s great football teams in 2-A, there’s great football teams in 3-A,” Hadachek said. “We certainly realize that.”
Squads undergoing change will always aim for a trip to the UNI-Dome and a prize for the trophy case.
“We all want the same thing,” Balke said.