Pirate News: Hart votes to expand WMC.

January 19, 2021

Pirate News: Hart votes to expand WMC.

By Allison Scarbrough, Editor.

Pirate News is a service of Hart Public Schools in cooperation with Oceana County Press. 

HART — Hart took a major step toward expanding the West Michigan Conference to include six more schools and dividing the conference into two divisions based on high school enrollment.

The Hart Public Schools Board of Education unanimously approved four action items during a board meeting Monday night, Jan. 18, that include (1) accepting Manistee, Ludington, Hesperia, Fremont, Holton and Orchard View into the WMC; (2) recommending that the 14-team West Michigan Conference be broken down into two seven-team divisions based on enrollment at the high school level; (3) collaborating with existing WMC schools and newly-accepted schools to generate extracurricular and academic competitions and schedules that support student involvement after school outside of athletics, such as robotics, forensics and quiz bowl teams; and (4) recommending the middle school divisions be broken up into two divisions based on geographic location.  

The teams included in the division with larger schools would include: Ludington with a high school enrollment of 679; Whitehall, 670; Fremont, 655; Orchard View, 569; Oakridge, 574; Manistee, 450; and Montague, 446. This division would be called the B League, because it would include Class B schools.

Teams in the smaller C League would include Class C schools: Shelby, 384; Hart, 369; Mason County Central (MCC), 367; Ravenna, 347; North Muskegon, 338; Hesperia, 274; and Holton, 226.

The geographical division proposed for middle school teams are the following: North Division: Manistee, Ludington, MCC, Hart, Shelby, Holton and Hesperia. South Division: Montague, Fremont, Whitehall, North Muskegon, Orchard View, Oakridge and Ravenna.

After several years of discussion, the Hart school board officially made the move Monday and is now optimistically waiting to see what the other school boards decide.

“The athletic directors, principals and superintendents of the West Michigan Conference have been having this discussion for quite some time,” said Hart Public Schools Superintendent Mark Platt. 

Last Friday, Jan. 15, WMC principals made a unanimous recommendation to expand the league. “It was truly unprecedented,” said Platt, considering the conference has remained the same for decades. The WMC last made a change 37 years ago when it let Whitehall back in, he said, but nothing of this magnitude has ever occurred in the WMC.

It is one of the most competitive conferences in the State of Michigan with teams repeatedly making playoff runs and gaining state championships. There has always been the question: “Do you mess with it?” he asked. 

Each existing WMC school board must vote favorably in order for the expansion to occur, Platt said. Those votes are expected to occur next month, and the Pirate superintendent said he’s “very optimistic” that will happen. “I have no doubt in my mind that all eight boards will vote it through.”

The six invited schools must also agree to join the WMC.  “They all have to agree — we must have a yes from all schools.”

“What do we do if someone turns us down? We have to bring it back to the athletic committee (the WMC principals) to figure out the next step.”

If the 14-school conference comes into fruition, there will be room for two schools to join later on — one large school and one small school, Platt said.

The teams would not be “locked into” just playing schools in their own division, he said. Teams in the two divisions could face off. 

There would be a conference title in each division, he said. 

Over the last several years, there has been much discussion about the “lopsided” conference, particularly in high school football. The smaller schools, such as Shelby, Hart and MCC, have been consistently on the losing side of “blow-out” games, whereas larger schools like Montague, Oakridge and Whitehall, have consistently prevailed. Powerhouse Montague is currently on the road to the state play-offs and has been in that position repeatedly. 

Platt recalls when he used to coach football at Oakridge, and blow-outs in the 1990s were usually a score of 48-0. Now, scores of 70-0 are taking place. Not only is that humiliating for the losing team, but it also doesn’t offer the winning team much competition. “That doesn’t refine them for the play-offs,” he said.

“The football schedule is 77 percent dictated by conference play,” he said. Other sports are not dictated by their conferences as much football because they have more flexibility creating their schedules.

“Size in football is a big deal,” said Platt. “There are 10 divisions for football in Michigan. There are eight divisions for 11-man football and two divisions for eight-man football. Size is a major factor. It would be great for schools like Hart and Shelby to play schools of the same size. I think this will be great for a lot of schools.”

The league restructuring is a “local control item,” he said, so it does not require Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA) approval. 

Dividing conferences into tiers is nothing new, said Platt. “This is not unchartered territory. Lots of other conferences in Michigan are set up this way. There are some with more than two tiers. This is not unusual at all.”

Platt credits high school principal Brandon Bruce and athletic director Tim Hertzler for their many hours of work to get the ball rolling. “I couldn’t be more pleased with Tim and Brandon — they were very instrumental. They were the guys that did the heavy lifting. This would not have happened without them.”

All three administrators know the smell of success on the gridiron. Platt, who played for Orchard View, coached for 10 years at Oakridge where he was a teacher and administrator. Bruce was a starting linebacker and team captain at Central Michigan University when the Chippewas defeated Michigan State University twice. Hertzler was a wide receiver for Taylor University .

Platt said he is also pleased with the positive response from the other schools. “We’ve had some great conversations at the superintendent level, and it hasn’t always been easy. I’m glad the superintendents agreed. This benefits everybody and hurts no one.”

If all the other schools agree, the soonest this expansion could occur would be the 2022-23 school year, said Platt. 

The Hart district is once again searching for a varsity football coach. Platt is hopeful that a new two-tiered system would attract a coach who wants to stay on board for a long time. 

The following are action items that the board approved:

Action Item #1: The athletic committee is recommending the acceptance of Manistee, Ludington, Hesperia, Fremont, Holton and Orchard View into the West Michigan Conference. 

Action Item #2: We recommend that the 14 team West Michigan Conference be broken down into two seven-team divisions based on enrollment at the high school level. The enrollment figures for division separation will be based on enrollment numbers as listed by the MHSAA for the 2020-2021 school year.  

  • Assessments for school enrollment and possible realignment will take place every two years to ensure competitive balance between the two divisions.  

 

Ludington  679
Whitehall  670
Fremont  655
OV  569
Oakridge  574
Manistee  450
Montague  446
Shelby  384
Hart  369
Mason CC  367

 

Ravenna  347
N. Muskegon  338
Hesperia  274
Holton  226

Action Item #3: Collaborate with existing West Michigan Conference schools and newly-accepted schools to generate co/extra-curricular and academic competitions and schedules that support student involvement after-school hours, outside of athletics. 

Action Item #4: We recommend the middle school divisions be broken up into two divisions based on geographic location.  

  • This should limit the financial and travel burden added by expansion and ensure we keep education at the forefront of our expansion efforts.  

The recommended seven-team divisions for middle school sports are listed below:

School  Division
Manistee  North Division
Ludington  North Division
Mason County Central  North Division
Hart  North Division
Shelby  North Division
Holton  North Division
Hesperia  North Division

 

School  Division
Montague  South Division
Fremont  South Division
Whitehall  South Division
N Muskegon  South Division
OV  South Division
Oakridge  South Division
Ravenna  South Division

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