TERRE HAUTE —
Since August 2012, ominous gray skies of uncertainty have hung over Terre Haute North and Terre Haute South as both schools searched for a new home for their athletic programs. On Tuesday, the clouds parted and sunny rays of conference certainty blessed both schools.
Conference Indiana’s principals voted unanimously on Tuesday to accept North and South into the league as a full member. The Patriots and Braves will join the conference in all sports starting with the 2014-15 school year.
North and South had joined Conference Indiana as football-only members starting with the current 2013 season, but were only guaranteed a two-year trial period. With Tuesday’s vote, North and South can breathe a sigh of relief as all of its programs can settle into new digs with members that have similar enrollment and outlook.
“It’s a tremendous relief. If I were to look at all of the conferences, this is the one I would’ve picked anyway,” Vigo County School Corporation superintendent Dan Tanoos said. “It’s a good match and a level playing field in terms of athletics, size and academics.”
North and South take Conference Indiana back to an eight-school league. They join Bloomington North, Bloomington South, Columbus North, Franklin Central, Perry Meridian and Southport in the league.
“We were very excited to get the invitation. They came to understand what kind of schools we have and how our kids represent us. It is a relief. The uncertainty was out there, but we always had faith we’d have a place to land,” South principal Chris Mauk said.
The uncertainty for North and South began in August 2012 when school officials from MIC schools in Indianapolis made public their desire to expand and to leave the Terre Haute schools out of their future plans.
Tanoos approached the Evansville-based Southern Indiana Athletic Conference for membership in the fall of 2012 — North and South were part of the SIAC until the 1980s — but the SIAC declined to invite the schools.
The trial football arrangement with Conference Indiana came about in January. It gave North and South a chance to show the Conference Indiana members that they were worthy of full membership despite concerns from some members of Conference Indiana, primarily related to distance.
“It started with football, but they had been very open to think about other opportunities for us and them to get together. They’ve been gracious and warm to us throughout,” North principal Robin Smith said.
Tanoos said it wasn’t a full-court press that North and South put on to woo Conference Indiana to invite the Terre Haute schools as full-time members, but both schools did feel it was important to make a good first impression.
“I think it was not a matter of convincing, but of the observations they made. It was about the conduct of our student-athletes and the hospitality they were shown here and we were shown there. They were looking for two schools and we were looking for a conference to join,” Tanoos said.
North and South will compete for one more lame duck season in the MIC.
While both North (1,987 enrollment) and South (1,835) were competitive at times in nearly all MIC sports but football, Conference Indiana’s schools have more comparable enrollments than MIC mega-schools such as Carmel (4,808) and Ben Davis (4,367).
Franklin Central (2,618), Perry Meridian (2,166) and Southport (2,161) are southside Indianapolis public schools that have comparatively smaller enrollments than North and South’s former MIC colleagues. It is hoped that the playing field will be more even.
“The MIC gave us a chance to be exposed to major talent. Scouts got to look at our kids partly because they were also looking at kids from other MIC schools. Academically, we were above many of the MIC schools. We were outmatched in football and [Conference Indiana is a good match for us,” Tanoos said.
Membership in the new conference was not without challenges. The most distant school from Terre Haute in Conference Indiana — Columbus North — is 20 miles further away than North and South’s furthest MIC trip to Carmel.
“Columbus was the one who had the biggest concern I would assume. I met with superintendent with Columbus last week he was more committed at this point. He said his principal was in full support and said if his principal was good with it, he was good with it,” Tanoos said.
Though it has not been finalized, it is likely that Conference Indiana will use a divisional format to mitigate travel concerns throughout the league. If a division format is adopted as expected, it is likely the Terre Haute schools would be paired with the Bloomington schools. It is also possible that divisional play will prompt a different format than the traditional round robin used in a traditional set-up, though what the format will be is still being discussed.
“They’re working on alignment for divisions so the travel won’t be as often as it might be in a regular format. It’s a jaunt from Columbus to here. [Conference Indiana] is going to work on the details,” Tanoos said.
Ironically, the opening in Conference Indiana came about partially due to North and South’s departure from the MIC. Former Conference Indiana members Indianapolis Pike and Lawrence Central left Conference Indiana to join the MIC in November 2012.
Tanoos credited officials at both North and South for creating the atmosphere to get the affiliation finalized.
“I give credit to the athletic directors and principals. They worked hard behind the scenes to try to get a deal hammered out. They weren’t pushy, but they were persistent in their pursuit,” Tanoos said.