THE DEAN'S LIST BY DEAN HOCKNEY
Disappointing. Unfortunate. Alarming. Classless. Vengeful.
When it comes to the North Central Conference and its breakup with charter member New Castle, any of a number of words comes to mind. Between the finger-pointing and accusations that have come out of this messy divorce, one thing is for sure – student-athletes are not being served by the adults who they look up to. The real losers in this mess are the athletes at New Castle, who seem to be caught in the middle of an administration’s attempt to do the right thing the wrong way. And when the situation got nasty, it got nasty enough for the IHSAA to step in and calm everyone down.
A major contention was whether New Castle would be eligible to participate in NCC events this school year. In June, after the Trojans announced they were departing the NCC, the eight schools – New Castle included – voted unanimously to adopt a by-laws amendment which stated a $2,000 exit fee would be paid to each remaining school, thus allowing an exiting school and its athletes to be eligible for NCC awards. But despite voting for the amendment, New Castle backed out of the deal and in an email stated it was not renewing its NCC charter for the 2013-2014 school year.
That declaration – which came after Kokomo, Richmond, Anderson, Marion, Muncie Central and Logansport worked hard to appease New Castle – set off a firestorm of accusations, both in the media and on social media. It should be noted that Huntington North is also leaving after the 2014-2015 season to form a new conference, and that separation has gone smoothly.
According to Kokomo Athletic Director Jason Snyder, the conference did everything in its power to meet the needs of New Castle. When the Trojan administration balked at having to travel to Tippecanoe County multiple times to play newcomers Lafayette Jefferson, Harrison and McCutcheon, the conference agreed to split into divisions – and even attempted to lure Jay County into the conference which is located closer to New Castle and Richmond. But those efforts were for naught as New Castle still backed out of the conference it helped found in 1926.
“We have tried to work things out to allow them to continue to be a part of our conference,” said Snyder. “Unfortunately, that didn’t work out and we are excited where we as a conference are headed how.”
Joe Santa, a respected retired athletic director who served at Huntington North and Warsaw, tweeted: “It’s all about $$$$. NCC is all about $$$$ now and not student athletes. Now the NCC has an ‘exit strategy.’ They’ve lost sight as to why high school athletics exist. It makes me sick what they’ve done to NC and HN. Simple revenge by people who know better.”
With pressure mounting, and both the NCC and New Castle having contacted the IHSAA, the lead organization for high school athletics in Indiana stepped in. According to a press release from the NCC, the organization met with IHSAA Commissioner Bobby Cox and New Castle officials on Aug. 23:
“As a result of that meeting, and in the best interest of the student athletes and communities of the North Central Conference and New Castle, the NCC Schools and New Castle will void all current and future NCC Conference Dates (excluding Football for the 2013 season). NCC Schools wishing to schedule New Castle may do so on a school-by-school basis. The North Central Conference looks forward to a new era with its current membership and the addition of Lafayette Jeff, Harrison, and McCutcheon High Schools. The NCC would also like to wish New Castle the best of luck as they begin a new chapter in the Hoosier Heritage Conference.”
And with that, the New Castle Trojans and its 86 year tie to the North Central Conference officially ended. Snyder said Kokomo will honor all contracts with the Trojans this year, except those in which multiple NCC squads participate for points (such as a three- or four-way tennis meet). Richmond, on the other hand, has already announced it has cancelled all games with New Castle except for football.
“It is unfortunate that we are going to lose a great school and we wish them the best,” said Snyder. “I understand it is what is best for their community and their school system and their kids. We have had a great relationship with New Castle and look forward to that continuing.”
So, where does that leave the esteemed North Central Conference? In one word: regrouping. Charter members Kokomo, Richmond, Anderson, Logansport and Muncie Central remain, and are joined by Huntington North and Marion this school year. In 2014-2015, the NCC will be a 10-team conference with the addition of Jefferson, McCutcheon and Harrison. And in 2015-2016, it will drop back down to nine schools as Huntington North exits.
“We will see how things go in the next couple of years,” said Snyder. “We will see if we keep an even number, or is nine the right number for the conference? It is continuing to move and we look forward to a positive season and have great competition throughout.”
Whatever the NCC decides, its reputation has taken a hit during this messy divorce with a longstanding member school. Kudos to Commissioner Cox for stepping in and mediating an end to this conference crisis and allowing the athletic season to progress. And I hope the NCC and New Castle can exist peacefully – I for one like traveling to the New Castle Fieldhouse every couple of years for a Wildkats-Trojans basketball game.
Until next time, remember to keep the man and ship in sports – and I’ll see you at the game.
Dean Hockney is the owner/publisher of the Sports Journal of Central Indiana and sports editor of the Kokomo Herald. His column can be found each week on the last page of the Sports Journal. You can follow Hockney on Twitter (@Sports_Journal).