INDIANOLA, Ia. – The Indianola School Board voted 7-0 to join the Little Hawkeye Conference on Monday night after a short discussion among board members and depart the Central Iowa Metropolitan League, beginning in the 2016-17 school year.
The addition of another school to the Little Hawkeye will boost that conference to eight teams. The Little Hawkeye Conference’s current membership contains Dallas Center-Grimes, Grinnell, Newton, Norwalk, Oskaloosa, Pella and Pella Christian.
According to state enrollment figures, Indianola is the state’s 41st largest high school. The school is the third-smallest in the CIML. Only Fort Dodge and Des Moines Hoover are smaller.
Indianola would become the largest school in the Little Hawkeye when it joins in the fall of 2016.
“This will be an excellent fit and will round out of competition very nicely,” Pella activities director Dale Otte said in a press release.
In 2010, Indianola’s school board discussed a proposal to join the Little Hawkeye. Community members spoke out against the measure, which failed to go to a board vote.
Board vice president Mark Tucker said the perception among community members has since changed.
“Everyone that I talked to felt that this is the time to make the move,” Tucker said. “We all need to support (the decision) no matter what side we’re on.”
On Monday, district superintendent Art Sathoff and athletic director Bernie Brueck both recommended the board accept the proposal before opening discussion, although there were no comments from the public presented to the board.
“This is definitely different from four years ago,” president Carolyn Langenwalter said. “I’ve really gotten hardly any feedback from the public. I could count it on one hand.”
The LHC formally invited Indianola to join the conference on Dec. 22, Sathoff said.
The decision has been a long time coming for the school district.
In 2003, Indianola officials met with representatives from three other CIML schools and four Little Hawkeye programs to discuss the potential of a new conference.
Last July, eight members — Indianola, Marshalltown, Ottumwa and five Des Moines schools — discussed splitting from the CIML to form their own league in 2015-16. That concept fell apart, but Indianola officials announced plans to continue looking at other options.
Indianola joined the two-division CIML in the early 1990s, but the league has expanded several times since — to three divisions in the early 2000s, then eventually to its current four-division format.
Johnston activities director Gary Ross said the remaining 18 schools in the CIML will regroup in three divisions of six schools starting in 2016.
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The Metro Conference, which included Indianola, will be composed of five Des Moines schools and Ottumwa.
The other 12 schools, which range from Des Moines suburbs to Ames, Marshalltown, Mason City and Fort Dodge, will meet next week to determine configurations, Ross said.
Moving to the Little Hawkeye could put more “butts in seats,” as former coach and athletic director Ron Werling put it earlier this month, meaning the district could make more money from athletic events.
Recent gate receipts for Indianola have run about $1,200 to $1,600, Brueck said, versus about $2,200 for a recent matchup between Grinnell and Dallas Center Grimes, two members of the Little Hawkeye conference. In addition to the increased money, there’s an added sense of excitement, said some supporters of the change.
Brueck said the change may have little impact on athletic programs. Most sports schedule several invitationals and non-conference competitions in addition to their CIML contests. Earlier this month at a town hall meeting, Brueck said that process would continue.
“I told them I’m hopeful that once we make a decision, if we do decide to go, we would have the opportunity to be your first phone call,” Brueck told the board. “We support our programs, and that’s why they like to play us. We’re very competitive and bring fans to the stands.”
The Register’s John Naughton contributed to this report.