News From Terre Haute, Indiana

September 11, 2012

Conference realignment has Terre Haute schools looking beyond the MIC

North and South exploring other possible affiliations

Andy Amey
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — Reports that the Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference is seeking to expand — at the expense of current members Terre Haute North and Terre Haute South — are true, Danny Tanoos confirmed Monday.

But the Vigo County School Corporation has been pro-active regarding the situation, too, its superintendent added, and a potential landing spot may — heavily emphasize “may” — already be in place.

“We’ve been in the loop [concerning MIC expansion],” Tanoos said by telephone Monday morning. “We’ve known for some time that the MIC may be wanting to go in another direction [than its current eight-school format], so about four years ago we started the ball rolling looking at other conferences.”

The Patriots and Braves were admitted into the MIC In November of 1996 and began full athletic participation during the 1997-98 school year. Athletically the conference is without peer, with literally hundreds of state-championship banners that include the two won by South in girls tennis and girls basketball.

But North and South were among the smallest schools in the league when they joined, and since then the enrollment gap has widened. “Our enrollment continues to drop, [the enrollments of the other MIC schools] continues to grow,” North football coach Chris Barrett noted recently.

Ben Davis, Carmel, Warren Central and Indianapolis North Central were the four biggest schools in the state using 2011-12 enrollment figures, and all six MIC schools in the Indianapolis area will be Class 6A in football when the sport is reclassified. South will be a 5A football school, and North might be as well.

“Academically we stack up very well [with the other MIC schools],” Tanoos said. “Athletically, we’ve had difficulty in a couple of sports. We don’t want our kids to be demoralized, and we don’t want them to be injured [competing against bigger schools].”

Targets for the MIC expansion would seem to include Pike and Lawrence Central, currently in Conference Indiana; Hamilton Southeastern, Fishers, Avon and Brownsburg, currently affiliated with the Hoosier Crossroads Conference; and possibly a few more schools in or around Marion County. Parochial powerhouse Indianapolis Cathedral may be considered; Indianapolis Tech, largest of the Indianapolis Public Schools league, would love to be invited; and schools such as Noblesville, Westfield, Franklin Central and Zionsville — all from Hoosier Crossroads except Franklin Central, which is in Conference Indiana — may also be under consideration.

If there’s a common denominator among all those schools, it isn’t the quality of their athletic programs as much as the fact that they don’t involve a long bus trip down I-70 — although Carmel football coach Kevin Wright, who also has coached a Warren Central during the past 15 years, told the Tribune-Star recently, “North and South are doing more traveling than anybody [else in the MIC].”

“Travel to Terre Haute is not for everybody,” Barrett agreed, “but [Terre Haute schools] are making that trip every other week.”

Long bus trips will continue to be a reality for the Braves and Patriots no matter where they wind up, and an article scheduled to appear in today’s Evansville Courier and Press will discuss North and South being under consideration to rejoin the Southern Indiana Athletic Conference.

“We’ve had difficulty [finding a good conference fit],” Tanoos admitted. “We want to go where there are like-size schools. We’re looking at the Evansville area — which is a further drive than we have now [to travel for MIC competition].”

That league — currently the seven Evansville schools plus Castle — was home for the Terre Haute schools when they were formed in the fall of 1971 and remained so throughout the 1970s. By 1979, the SIAC included 17 teams including Jasper, Boonville, Tell City, Washington, Vincennes Lincoln, Mount Vernon and Princeton.

Gordon Engelhardt, who is writing the piece in the Evansville paper, said Monday it is his understanding that an application to the SIAC has been made and will be considered at an Oct. 9 conference meeting.

“We’re interested,” Tanoos said. “We can not be an independent [for scheduling reasons, particularly in football]. We’re on an island [with no other big schools nearby].”

Engelhardt is not promising that an invitation will be forthcoming from the SIAC, and school administrators from the conference did not return phone calls Monday.

A fall-back plan, Tanoos indicated, might depend on which of the invited schools join the MIC and desert their current conference.

“If other schools go [to the MIC], there might be an opening in the Bloomington area,” he said. “We’ll have letters going out the next couple of weeks [to gauge interest from other conferences].”

Whatever the outcome of expansion plans, the Terre Haute schools should have full MIC schedules for at least another year.

“John Williams [principal at Carmel and president of the MIC] has assured us that the likelihood of our remaining in the MIC next year is very strong,” Tanoos said. “It will be an agreeable split … but the handwriting is on the wall.

“It’s a two-way street,” he concluded. “[MIC members] understand we’ll be doing the same thing [looking for new affiliations].”