The Central DeWitt Community School Board discussed moving to a new athletic conference at its regular meeting Wednesday night, a prospect that has been on the table for almost a year.

The conversation about possibly joining the Mississippi Athletic Conference included competitiveness, travel distance and academic impacts. Central DeWitt, which has belonged to the WaMaC since 2003, approached the MAC last spring to explore joining its ranks.

“We basically have two months,” Superintendent Dan Peterson told the board regarding coming to a decision about making a formal request to join the MAC. It would need to be made at the board’s March meeting. 

After MAC principals and activities directors visited with Central DeWitt officials Jan. 9, the group took a straw poll to gauge interest in the potential new member.

The unofficial verdict, which came with some conditions, was that “an overwhelming number of schools indicated they would approve your request,” said Pleasant Valley High School Principal Mike Zimmer in a Jan. 10 letter addressed to Central DeWitt Principal George Pickup and Activities Director Kurt Krieter; both attended the meeting. 

The MAC will hold its next joint AD/principal meeting April 10. MAC officials would vote on a formal request to join at that meeting. Central DeWitt also would need to submit a formal withdrawal notice to the WaMaC by that conference’s April meeting.

In his letter, Zimmer said Central DeWitt’s admission into the 4A league beginning in the 2020-21 school year would be contingent upon a couple of conditions.

First, Central DeWitt would need to offer boys and girls tennis beginning in the 2021-22 school year, either through a sharing agreement or as an additional Central DeWitt offering.

Second, Central DeWitt would need to participate in MAC golf during the fall season. In Iowa, all schools playing golf  in the highest athletic classification, 4A, golf in the fall season. The remaining schools’ golf season is in the spring.

 “I think it’s a big decision,” said board member Angela Rheingans. “It’s good to have a timeline. It’s good to have this information. I’ve been chatting with a lot of people about it. I think that we all have been.”

One of the biggest concerns the board heard about moving to the MAC is whether Central DeWitt would be competitive in a conference that includes schools that have substantially larger enrollments. 

Five MAC members — Davenport Central, Davenport West, Bettendorf, Pleasant Valley, and Muscatine — have over 1,000 students in grades 9-11. A sixth, Davenport North, has over 900. Based on those same numbers, Central DeWitt would rank ninth among the 10 members of the MAC, ahead of Davenport Assumption.

Part of Wednesday’s conversation focused on the need to enhance the strength and conditioning program at Central DeWitt for student athletes.

A positive aspect about changing conferences is less travel, officials said. The easternmost team in the WaMaC is Central DeWitt, which forces lengthy trips to even the closest teams in its division. Other than the 20 miles that separate the Sabers from rival Maquoketa, Central travels an average of over 62 miles one-way to the other seven teams in its division of the conference. That number jumps to over 90 miles if it plays any of the eight teams in the WaMaC West.

Board President Cory Huff noted the toll that travel can take.

“It’s not just the athletic portion of it. Look at the stress it puts on young kids when they are getting out of class at 2 o’clock in the afternoon to travel two hours and getting back at midnight. You have to look at how that affects you going into the rest of your week in classes,” he said.

“I look at both sides, and my mind is not made up by any means yet, but I look at the pros and cons, and I definitely do see some significant benefits,” he said, adding that he also acknowledges the concerns. 

The MAC does not have the fine arts component that the WaMaC has for band, choral, large and small group speech, and art. However, the board and administrators noted that a move could provide an opportunity to bring that element to the MAC. Other competitions and activities in the Quad Cities area also would be an option.

Central DeWitt Athletic Conference history

1936 — ILLOWA Conference

1975 — Big Bend Conference

1986 — Independent

1987— Restructured Big Bend Conference

1992 — District Football began

2003 — WaMaC