ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
A new and improved Mid Central Activities Association is making its debut this fall with the formal addition of Marion and Hoisington to what used to be a 10-school league.
The two new schools-which expand the east/west reaches of the league by some 30 miles-got their feet wet last year by participating in several MCAA activities.
This year, though, it’s all MCAA for all activities.
Tod Gordon, activities director for Marion High School, said he is looking forward to the new association.
“From what I gather already, it’s one of the best leagues in the state, without any question,” he said. “The level of play-there’s not a weak team in the MCAA. It’s quality schools.”
Gordon said the MCAA is more than just a strong sports league.
“Musically, we’ve been to vocal and instrumental (contests) and it’s outstanding in those areas-as well as forensics,” he said. “Across the board, it’s top level. State-level schools are coming out of this league in all areas.
“We may have some growing pains there, making sure we get to that level.”
In terms of the new lineup of schools, Gordon said the transition from the old Cottonwood Valley League, now disbanded, to the MCAA won’t be as abrupt as some might think.
“In our situation, we transitioned in last year-we even hosted the (MCAA) league forensics meet last year,” he said.
What’ more, Marion has a history with many of the 10 original schools. In athletics, for instance, the Warriors play Hillsboro in most sports every season, and frequently hook up with some of the other MCAA schools, too.
Gordon said trips to Haven and Nickerson and Ellinwood and Hoisington may take a while to get used to.
“We’re still trying to figure out how we’re going to get to Nickerson for our first football game,” he said.
In the case of Ellinwood and Hoisington, the biggest adjustment for Marion teams and fans will be the distance. Marion is the farthest east school in the MCAA and the other two are the farthest west-almost 90 miles to Ellinwood and 110 to Hoisington.
“It’s going to be a little eye-opener for some of our folks to go that direction,” Gordon said.
The league has taken steps to reduce mileage and travel time by dividing schools into different divisions for different situations.
Volleyball, for instance, which usually plays on Tuesday nights-with school the next morning-will divide schools geographically into east and west divisions.
That same arrangement will hold true for the other sports-except football and basketball-as well as for most non-athletic activities such as music, debate and forensics.
Because football is played on Friday nights-with no school the next day-the schools are divided according to size: the Mid Division for the smallest schools and the Central Division for the largest.
The exception is Hillsboro and Lyons, who switched places to allow for natural rivalries.
Hillsboro has a smaller enrollment than Lyons, but will face rivals Collegiate and Hesston each year in the big-school Central Division.
Lyons will be in the small-school Mid Division, so it can match up annually with nearby Sterling, Ellinwood and Hoisington.
The odd sport is basketball, where coaches have opted to play each school in the MCAA one time as a “league game” with no divisions. Some schools will match up a second time during the season, but as a non-league game.
In addition to the league’s divisional strategies, Gordon said Marion has initiated several local changes with the intent of reducing mileage and travel time, especially on school nights.
“We also didn’t schedule the Marion-Hoisington JV football game on Monday night-we’re not playing that game. The middle school game, usually on a Thursday, is moved to Saturday.”
In addition, Marion won’t be sending cheerleaders to every Monday, Tuesday and Thursday activity this year.
“They’re going to go on Fridays for football and some Saturdays,” Gordon said. “But they’re going to stay home a bit more than normal.”
Aside from travel, Gordon said the biggest adjustment for Warrior fans involve traditions they’ll have to change.
“Football homecoming for us has always been a halftime event,” Gordon said. “The new league tells us it needs to be done 10 minutes before the game. We’re going to have folks wanting to roll in for halftime and watch something that’s already been done.
“We’re having a few growing pains trying to get those things communicated,” he admitted.
During volleyball duals with another school, Marion traditionally has featured the second match of the night by having the pep band play and by introducing the lineups. According to MCAA bylaws, introductions are to occur before the first match.
Look for changes for basketball homecoming, too, Warrior fans.
“In our situation, homecoming has always been during halftime of the boys’ game,” Gordon said. “Homecoming (in the MCAA) is right after the girls’ game and before the boys’ game. So a lot of schools don’t have any of their basketball players as part of ‘Queen of Courts’ because the girls are just coming off the court. “
Neither Gordon nor Max Heinrichs, Hillsboro High School activities director, think having the two schools in the same league again will have much impact on the once storied Marion-Hillsboro rivalry.
Before expansion, the two schools often were placed in the same four-school football district, frequently met two to three times a year in basketball, and regularly encountered each other in wrestling and spring sports.
“Actually, we’re doing quite a bit together,” Gordon said.
“I think I have a great working relationship with Tod,” he said. “I think the ‘rivalry’ will stay in the same perspective that it has been because we always played them.”
Heinrichs said adding Marion and Hoisington has been a good move for the league.
“It probably has made it stronger,” he said. “We didn’t add schools that aren’t going to state. We added schools that are doing well and qualifying for state in a lot of activities. I think that has strengthened our league.”