Central High School will rejoin the Ozark Conference, restore the league to 10 teams, and potentially resuscitate old rivalries.
The move will provide stability for both Central and the conference. Bulldogs coaches sometimes struggled to fill their schedules since Central left the OC 17 years ago to become an independent athletic program. Springfield Public Schools Athletic Director Randy Stange likes the idea of Central teams being able to automatically fill parts, if not all, of their schedules against Class 4, 5 and 6 opponents.
“I think it gives stability to their schedule, no question about that, and I think overall it’s a good fit,” Stange said. “It’s good for the Ozark Conference as well, so it brings us up to 10 teams.”
Joplin will leave the Ozark Conference for the Central Ozark Conference at the start of the 2018-2019 school year, so Central will replace the Eagles immediately.
Central applied to join the Ozark Conference this past spring, and officials from nine high schools voted to bring in the Bulldogs.
Central High School left the Ozark Conference in 1999. Dr. Edsel Matthews was the Springfield Public Schools athletic director at the time, and said the move came about through collaboration of Central’s coaches.
“They had gone through a period of time for about four or five years where they were last in the all-sports trophy and were not competitive,” Matthews said. “They felt like their numbers were down.”
Prior to the 1999-2000 school year, officials considered the possible ramifications on sports that typically produce more revenue, football and basketball. Present day scheduling concerns were not as prevalent because other southwest Missouri conferences had fewer teams.
“The Central Ozark Conference also didn’t have the number of teams they have now, so they were able to play some of those schools,” Matthews said.
Newly hired Central football coach Sean Nevills looks forward to the Bulldogs joining the Ozark Conference and having the other four Springfield Public Schools high schools on the schedule each season.
“A big part of it is it’s a measuring stick against other teams in the area,” Nevills said. “You look at past schedules, we haven’t played the teams down the street.”
Central filled its football schedule this year with games at Jefferson City, Nevada and Nixa. The Bulldogs will also host Chaminade and homeschool football power Lighthouse Christian.
Finding football opponents is a tough task for any independent team, or even a team with fewer conference opponents than there are weeks in the season—regardless of the sport, Stange said.
“Across the board, joining a conference gives those playing opponents within the conference a good thing,” Stange said.
Central competes in the Missouri State High School Activities Association Class 5 in football and basketball with a reported enrollment of 1,612 students.
In addition to the five Springfield teams, the Ozark Conference will include Lebanon, West Plains, Waynesville, Rolla and Camdenton starting in 2018.
Joplin High School announced in April that it will leave the Ozark Conference and join the Central Ozarks Conference effective in the 2018-2019 academic year.
According to a press release, COC superintendents voted to add Joplin to the conference.
With an enrollment of 2,216 students, Joplin will become the largest high school by student population in the Central Ozarks Conference Large Division, unseating Nixa with its enrollment of 1,733.
Central High School fields varsity teams in a total of 19 different boys and girls sports.