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By David Sharp
The Harrisburg and Fayette school districts have announced they will leave the Lewis and Clark Conference for a new, seven member conference centered around the Columbia/Jefferson City area.
Harrisburg won the Lewis and Clark Conference 11 man football championship in 2022. Fayette was 6-5 playing 11 man football in 2022.
“The proud school districts of Russellville, Fayette, Eugene, Harrisburg, New Bloomfield, Osage County R-II (Linn), and South Callaway (at Mokane) are excited to announce that, beginning in 2024-2025 we will be forming a new activities/athletics conference,” state a Press Release courtesy of the Harrisburg R-VIII School District and Superintendent Mr. Steve Combs.
Marceline and Brookfield have announced they will leave the Lewis and Clark and Clarence Cannon Conference respectively to join the Grand River Conference in 2024-25. Grand River Conference schools subsequently announced their conference will split into two separate conferences.
“Today was a bittersweet day,” Harrisburg Superintendent and girls softball coach Steve Combs said. Coach Combs is a Missouri Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Famer.
“I am excited for our new journey with our new conference,” Steve Combs said. “But I can’t help but reflect on all the people we met and the great battles we had in the Lewis and Clark Conference. We will enjoy our last year as a member.”
The Lewis and Clark Conference currently has Harrisburg, Fayette, Marceline, Salisbury, Westran, Paris, Schuyler and Scotland County along with Knox County as member schools. Schuyler, and Knox County played 8 man football in 2022.
Paris announced they would transition to 8-Man football beginning with the 2023-24 season.
The Edina Sentinel sought comment from Knox County R-I Athletic Director and hear Football along with Track and Field Coach Bruce Vannoy regarding the most recent conference re-alignment.
Bruce Vannoy told the Edina Sentinel that North Shelby has been offered and has accepted membership in the Lewis and Clark Conference beginning with the 2024-25 school year.
North Shelby has been very successful in 8-Man football as well as girls softball, basketball, baseball, Track and Field, Academic Bowl and Music. The Raiders were members of the Tri-Rivers Conference along with current LCC members Knox County, Scotland County, and Schuyler County.
North Shelby has been competing as an independent since the Tri-Rivers Conference disbanded several years ago.
“We have had an idea this was coming,” Knox County Athletic Director Bruce Vannoy said. “They have been very up front about it for the most part. It won’t make a difference. We have been playing at North Shelby, and they have been offered (Lewis and Clark Conference membership).”
“North Shelby is coming in for the 2024-25 season. That helps a little bit. We play them already,” Bruce Vannoy said. “We hate to see them go,” Vannoy said of Harrisburg and Fayette. “We do wish both schools the best of luck.”
“We enjoy the present alignment of the Lewis and Clark, but schools have to do what is best for them,” Bruce Vannoy said. “They feel like this is the best move for their scheduling and travel purposes. We understand that. We will move forward and will always be open minded if we need to make changes down the road.”
The Lewis and Clark Conference offered membership to several area schools in recent years. North Shelby accepted. As of June 16, 2023 Lewis and Clark Conference schools beginning with the 2024-25 academic year will be Schuyler County, Salisbury, Scotland County, Knox County, North Shelby, Paris and Westran.
Most coaches, athletic directors and area school administrators will acknowledge that football scheduling often plays a role in conference alignments, and re alignments. Schuyler County will enter their fourth season of 8-Man football while Knox County will play their third season of 8-Man starting with the 2023 football season.
Paris will play their first season of 8-Man football beginning in August of 2023. All three LCC member schools cited declining enrollment and low player numbers as factors in their decision to transition from 11-Man to 8-Man Football.
At the same time, Knox, Schuyler County and Paris deciding to transition affected Marceline, Salisbury, Scotland County and Westran’s ability to schedule football games.
“You see a similar thing when you look at college (football) all the way down,” Bruce Vannoy said of how football scheduling often impacts conference moves. “We are in an area of the state where we can find baseball, basketball and softball games.”
“There are a lot of schools in this area that don’t play football, but they do offer some other options. But when you fill a nine game (football) schedule… The first year we played 8-Man, we had an awful lot of travel,” Knox County head football coach Bruce Vannoy said.
“It gets a little better for us this year,” Coach Vannoy said. “We have had teams drop down to 8-Man. But some of the 11-Man teams are kind of in limbo. Up in Northeast Missouri, there just aren’t a lot of true Class 1 (11-Man football) teams left.”
“I think that is a lot of it, with teams going more to Columbia and Central Missouri area. They have to do what’s best for their school. We hope to keep playing all three schools that left (The Lewis and Clark Conference).”
“It’s hard to schedule. With revolving schedules, teams bumping to 8-Man, going to Class 2 or whatever. It is definitely a big driving force for them I know,” Bruce Vannoy said. “We tried to expand our conference initially but it didn’t work out. This is the fallout from that.”
MSHSAA rules state that schools with listed enrollments of 150 or under have the option to play 8-Man football. Any member school with a listed enrollment of more than 150 must play 11-Man if they choose to play football.
Harrisburg had a listed enrollment of 139 for the 2022-23 school year. Fayette listed 143. The Bulldogs and Falcons choose to play 11-Man football.
Eugene (148) is the third member of the new conference that could apply to play 8-Man football. The new conference discussed in this story will likely be a power in Class 2 baseball.
New Bloomfield and Eugene played fall baseball in 2022 according to the MSHSAA web site.
Nothing in this story is meant to criticize any school district, but we all should remember that playing football and conference membership is a choice each individual school district makes. New Bloomfield (164) and Eugene did not offer football in 2022.
New Bloomfield or Eugene reportedly has plans to adopt football. This reporter was unable to confirm the future plans of either school before the June 21 publication deadline.
Linn has a listed enrollment of 165. The Wildcats played 11-Man JV Football in 2022 as part of adopting varsity football.