The evolution of the Wolverine Conference took another step Thursday when league secretary Gary Ellis confirmed Sturgis High School was unanimously voted in to replace outgoing Comstock in 2014-15.
Former Lakeland Athletic Conference members Edwardsburg, Berrien Springs and Coloma joined the Wolverine last fall, which expanded the league to 12 teams. Comstock is scheduled to align itself with the Kalamazoo Valley Association after this academic year, leaving the Wolverine with a spot to fill.
Ellis told JoeInsider.com that the Wolverine’s Board of Governors considered expanding to 16, 20 or even 24 teams in recent years. Earlier this summer it settled on remaining at 12 schools for the foreseeable future and agreed Sturgis, which has competed in the Southwestern Michigan Athletic Association since 2001, the year the Twin Valley disbanded, was the right fit.
“They bring a quality athletic program,” Ellis said Thursday afternoon. They’ve had some very strong teams and they’ve got good teams and are very competitive, so I think that’s really going to enhance the league. I think we should have some good competition across the board.”
Other SMAC Big 16 members such as Coldwater, Battle Creek Harper Creek and Marshall have announced in late July plans to form a new conference in 2014-15 with Battle Creek Pennfield, Jackson Lumen Christi, Parma Western, Charlotte and Jackson Northwest.
The current divisional breakdown for the Wolverine is Three Rivers, South Haven, Coloma, Berrien Springs, Dowagiac and Edwardsburg in the West, with Otsego, Plainwell, Paw Paw, Allegan, Vicksburg and Comstock making up the East.
Ellis explained it won’t be as simple as plugging Sturgis into the East, but that serious consideration will be given to travel expenses for each school and enrollment trends.
“For Sturgis I think it’s going to be better,” he said. “The trip from Allegan to Sturgis would be our longest trip. It would depend on how the divisions shake out. That hasn’t been resolved yet. That’s something we want to get going on fairly soon. But there are going to be some questions about how the two, six-team divisions lay out. That’s going to have to be the biggest issue that we’re going to have to resolve.
“Three Rivers being stuck in the West kind of blows [geographical sense] out of the water. Right now we’re going to sit down and take a look at one of the biggest issues, again, the transportation thing, and enrollment. We’ll figure out what the best scenario is overall. There will not be a perfect solution, that’s for sure.”
Sturgis athletics director Mark Adams, who has been in favor of joining the Wolverine for years, agrees that travel costs will remain roughly the same as in the SMAC and could possibly decrease. Perhaps most important is the move ensures Sturgis won’t be one of the smallest schools in its conference. With the departure of Marshall, Coldwater and Harper Creek, Sturgis would have been one of three Class B schools, along with Stevensville Lakeshore and Benton Harbor, left in the SMAC. In the Wolverine, the Trojans (868 students) will enjoy being at the top of the enrollment list, according to the Michigan High School Athletic Association’s numbers.
“I think it will be a really good fit,” Adams said. “From a size standpoint and similarity standpoint, it will be a really good fit as far as who we’re playing against in that [Wolverine] conference. One of the things it does for us is it gives us back that Three Rivers rivalry in football. We’ve played them every year in basketball, and we play them every year in most things, but football has always been a big rivalry game with a lot of folks coming out to watch. I think that’s going to be exciting.”