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Change on the horizon: Marshalltown, others reveal CIML departure plans

T-R PHOTO BY TREVOR BABCOCK Marshalltown School District Superintendent Dr. Theron Schutte informs the Marshalltown School Board Monday of his intention to bring a proposal forth in the board’s next meeting to withdraw from the Central Iowa Metro League (CIML) and form a new athletic conference with Ames, Mason City, Fort Dodge, Ottumwa and the five Des Moines public schools.

Monday was a chaotic day for the Central Iowa Metro League. It also raised questions about the future of the conference.

A leaked letter revealed what had been going on behind the scenes for weeks between superintendents and athletic directors — Marshalltown, along with nine other current CIML members (Ames, Mason City, Ottumwa, Fort Dodge and all five Des Moines Public Schools), is planning to leave the CIML to form a new athletic conference.

The letter, written by Marshalltown Superintendent Theron Schutte was sent to fellow CIML superintendents Sunday night on behalf of the six superintendents, outlining the competitive imbalances in the CIML configuration of 18 teams (eight “suburb” teams — Ankeny, Centennial, Valley, Waukee, Johnston, Urbandale, Dowling and SE Polk — and the 10 metros). Schutte said the leak was unexpected.

The data Schutte presented in the letter included proof that non-suburb schools have won just 16.5 percent of games against the suburb schools in the past five seasons of competition. Those numbers were gathered from volleyball, girls’ and boys’ basketball, girls’ and boys’ soccer, baseball and softball.

This notice of departure comes after CIML athletic directors and principals approved a motion showing willingness to realign within the CIML umbrella as two “conferences” that still played against each other. That plan would have the 10 teams not in the suburbs in one conference, and the nine suburb teams in the other. But the schools would still be in the same larger conference.

Schutte said in the Marshalltown School Board meeting on Monday the CIML’s plan did not go far enough in addressing competitive concerns the metro schools have.

“Anything short of just a clean separation of our districts from, essentially, the suburbans would be less than what our districts desire,” Schutte said. “Many of the districts are looking for an opportunity to have a much more equitable and competitive playing field. The thing that really excites the superintendents of this new proposed conference is that we truly believe that every team, no matter who it is, within this conference should be able to week-in and week-out feel like they’ve got a legitimate chance to compete well and potentially win.”

Marshalltown cannot officially leave the conference until the 2022-23 academic year. So no matter what, the Bobcats will be in the CIML Iowa Conference next season — and will be joined by new school Waukee Northwest, another addition to the suburb schools.

There is strong momentum behind Schutte and Athletics Director Ryan Isgrig’s push to join with the other nine teams Schutte named in his letter. Schutte said he received affirmation from all six district superintendents before sending the letter, and he added that there are expectations for all six to file proposals to their respective school boards during the month of March to approve this realignment. Schutte said the goal is to have every prospective member announce their intentions to withdraw by April 1.

Mason City Athletic Director Tracy Johnson said in the situation, a clean break would be a big boost for his athletic department and would likely help boost turnout.

“I think from Mason City’s perspective, we’re just at a different spot [than the suburbs],” Johnson said. “I coached at Valley for 18-20 years, so I know what that’s like there. At Mason City, we need to try to figure out how we can grow programs. And it’s tough to get kids to go out, and I know everybody says, ‘Just get better.’ I totally understand that school of thought, 100 percent. But it’s tough to tell kids, ‘Hey we’re gonna go out, we’re going to play at least nine games a year, in basketball anyway, where it’s going to take a monumental effort just to compete, just to get a win.’ It’s just the nature of where everybody’s at at this time.”

Johnson has been on both sides of the competition issue, coaching at West Des Moines Valley for nearly 20 years before serving as the AD at Des Moines Roosevelt and then taking the job at Mason City.

Isgrig, who is in his second full school year as the AD for the Bobcats, said discussions have intensified recently around realignment — and he said there is no reason for it to not come to fruition.

The competitive balance a new conference would bring is very appealing to Isgrig, who said looking out for his programs is most important, even if it means a change of affiliation.

“It seems that most people are willing to support this change,” Isgrig said. “We’re excited about the opportunity to find a more competitive balance and more equity among our schools and for our programs to compete. We think that, in the long run, it’s definitely going to be a good thing.”

Schutte said Monday night there is no name yet for the proposed conference and, for lack of a better term, it’s been referred to as the “Big 10” due to the number of teams. Seven of the 10 proposed members of the new conference were conference mates at one time or another before the CIML days, appearing at different times in the now-defunct Big Eight Conference.

The chances of the Bobcats and nine other schools getting out from the shadows of the suburbs is higher than it has been in years.

“I think, with this, there could be a greater emphasis on conference games and competing for a conference title,” Isgrig said. “Still not to say we can’t schedule the suburban schools, hopefully this would lead to more flexibility with some of our schedules to schedule them if it were to make sense. There’s several local schools around that we want to keep scheduling that haven’t been in our conference, like Newton and Grinnell. The coaches especially have been extremely supportive of this.”

Contact Noah Rohlfing at 641-753-6622 or nrohlfing@timesrepublican.com.

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