Effingham Daily News, Effingham, IL

Local News

July 1, 2010

Residents discuss pros and cons of conference change

TEUTOPOLIS —  Like many people in sports-mad Teutopolis, Phil Hartke has been personally involved in Wooden Shoe athletics for multiple generations.

    As a player, Hartke sank a last-second shot to propel the Shoes to the finals of the National Trail Conference tournament in the mid-1960s.

    As a dad, Hartke saw his son, Rich, play on the Shoes’ state championship basketball team in the 1980s.

    As a grandfather, he watched his grandson played on the Teutopolis seventh-grade state championship basketball team this past season.

    But Hartke doesn’t appear to be opposed to Teutopolis leaving the NTC after 75 years.

    “You remember moments for what they were,” he said. “But there will be other moments to replace them.”

     Teutopolis High School has been invited to join the Apollo Conference for the 2012-13 school year, if the Unit 50 Board of Education chooses to accept the invitation by Aug. 1.

    Wednesday, about 50 people attended a special board meeting at which Athletic Director Andy Johnson outlined the pros and cons of a switch to the Apollo. The Wooden Shoes would join Effingham, Charleston, Salem, Mt. Zion, Paris and Mattoon in a revamped Apollo that is losing Newton, Olney and Robinson.

    Mattoon, a Big 12 member for many years, has already accepted an Apollo invitation for the 2012-13 school year. Johnson said the Apollo is waiting on Teutopolis before pursuing other schools, such as Breese Mater Dei and Taylorville.

    Johnson said Teutopolis would only join the Apollo under the following conditions:

    • That the Wooden Shoes not be required to field a football team, at least in the near future.

    • That Apollo schools play each other once a year in basketball, instead of twice.

    • That the Apollo organize a conference tournament for boys and girls basketball.

    Board president Marty Siemer said the board will consider its options at its July 12 meeting.

    “I can tell you it’s not going to be an easy decision,” Siemer said. “It’s something we’re all going to struggle with.”

    Johnson said Teutopolis would go from being the largest school in the NTC to the smallest school in the Apollo, with its high school enrollment of 441.

    He conceded that Wooden Shoe teams would spend more time on the road with a switch to the Apollo and the increased travel time would cost the district between $1,500 and $3,500 per year.

    On the other hand, Johnson said the switch would present more opportunities for Wooden Shoe athletes to be recognized on and off the field or court. He noted the NTC does not have conference competition in golf, tennis or soccer. Nor does the current conference offer scholastic bowl or the All-Apollo Leadership Camp, where four freshmen from each conference school attend an overnight seminar at Allerton Park near Monticello.

    Johnson said there are a number of other advantages to joining the Apollo, including the ability to play teams its size in conference play.

    In addition, the baseball team would face the other team’s top pitchers on Saturday doubleheaders, instead of the opponent’s third or fourth pitcher in non-conference action during the week.

    But Johnson warned there would be a cost of leaving the NTC, including the loss of historic rivalries and the atmosphere that goes along with events such as the NTC boys basketball tournament.

    The key factor that all should consider, he said, is the best option for present and future athletes.

    “The key to all this is looking out for the best interest of the kids,” Johnson said.

    While nobody at Wednesday’s meeting expressed any outward hostility toward the proposed move to the Apollo, some did have some questions.

    “With all the changes taking place, do you think the Apollo is stable?” asked Ron Probst.

    “The stability (in the Apollo) will be there,” Johnson said. “We were told the core group of five schools will stay no matter what.”

    Others said the tradition card can be overplayed.

    “If we hung our hat on tradition, the NCAA (basketball) tournament wouldn’t be what it is today,” said Dick Hawickhorst of Teutopolis. “Tradition can only go so far.”

    “I’m as much of a traditionalist as anybody,” Probst said. “But there are times when change is necessary.”

    Some at Wednesday’s meeting suggested that Unit 50 pursue an independent course in athletics. Girls basketball coach Laurie Thompson said her schedule was limited once the Lady Shoes joined the NTC several years ago.

    “I like being independent,” Thompson said. “We were independent for a number of years and our schedule was second to none.

    “I know it’s selfish, but I like being able to pick and choose who I play,” she said.

    Johnson said scheduling for an independent program is a “nightmare.” He added that conference schools are more apt to cancel games with independents because of conference conflicts created by weather-related issues.

    But he added that Teutopolis’ prestige is a draw for schools near and far.

    “We wouldn’t have trouble putting an independent schedule together,” he said. “We’re fortunate that people want to play us.”

    Bill Grimes can be reached at 217-347-7151 ext. 132 or bill.grimes@effinghamdailynews.com



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