Frontier League shrinks to 8 schools
It's good news for those coaches that want a competitive conference and bad news for those who enjoyed easy victories against smaller schools.
For everyone, except football this fall, the newly aligned Frontier League will be a change. The formerly 13-school league is now down to eight, which has some Baldwin High School coaches excited.
"I am looking forward to it," BHS track and cross country coach Mike Spielman said. "I think it will be neat that we have eight schools that are pretty much the same size. It will be nice that the league meets won't be quite as big in cross country and track. It will be fun and a lot more competitive."
In 2004, the Frontier League expanded from 10 to 13 schools as Ottawa, De Soto and Central Heights climbed on board. Now Central Heights, Anderson County, Osawatomie, Prairie View and Wellsville have left to form their own league.
However, the league will remain at 13 teams for football this fall. The league is in its second of a two-year cycle with the football schedule. That means the large and small divisions will remain for just this season, before the new league takes effect next fall.
"Based on football districts, there still may be teams that don't play everybody in the league, but it's going to be a lot closer," Activities Director Gary Stevanus said.
Two of the schools -- Wellsville and Central Heights -- are both Class 3A schools. They have been competing against Class 4A and 5A schools for years in the Frontier League. Now the league will be slightly more balanced, despite Gardner-Edgerton's 5A ranking.
"The majority of the schools in our league will now be 4A," Stevanus said. "Gardner is still obviously 5A. Paola and Ottawa are always on the bubble of 4A and 5A, but it takes out the disparity from a fairly large 5A to middle-of-the-road 3A that we had in the past."
Without the smaller schools, coaches believe the league will be more balanced and competitive. BHS softball coach Ginny Honomichl said the tough softball teams are still around, which should create a tough league this spring.
"I'm sure it will be more competitive," Honomichl said. "We haven't gotten rid of Paola, Eudora or any of the schools that play really well. Gardner always comes through strong. It will be tough."
Another advantage Stevanus saw was the traveling time. Traveling to Prairie View and Anderson County were the two longest trips for the Bulldogs. Although Wellsville was the closest trip for Baldwin teams.
"Everything is closer," Stevanus said. "The furthest trip is now Louisburg, which isn't bad. So travel will be a little bit closer."
Even with less teams in the league, Stevanus said scheduling might not be easier this year. He said some sports will be more difficult, because they will have to find replacement games for the former league opponents to fill the schedule.
"Football should be easier, but some of the other sports aren't, because of the number of allowed games, like basketball where we can play 20 games," Stevanus said. "If we play a couple of tournaments and seven league games, we are shopping for six more, where it used to only be a couple. So it's not necessarily easier but it does give us the opportunity to see different teams."
To fill those gaps, some BHS teams will remain playing those former league schools, but the games won't count for any league standings.
"We will still play some of those teams," Stevanus said. "We will play Prairie View in baseball and softball next year. We will still play Anderson County in basketball, baseball and softball. We will still play Wellsville in basketball. We're not going to get rid of everybody. They are close and we still need someone to play."
BHS boys' basketball coach Eric Toot said the new league hasn't affected his schedule much because they will still play some of the same schools this winter.
The new schedule does allow BHS teams to compete against area schools that they haven't played before. Honomichl said her softball team will be doing just that.
"That will be exciting," Honomichl said of playing new teams. "With this new schedule, it has given us a chance to pick up St. James Academy. It's nice to play some other non-league schools."
One disadvantage to the new league for Baldwin is that the Bulldogs are now one of the smallest schools. Last year BHS was one student higher in population than Louisburg and several higher than Eudora.
However, Baldwin's high school population might be down this year, which could drop it to the bottom. The official numbers will be announced Sept. 21.
"We are one of the smallest now," Stevanus said. "High school wise, Eudora is still smaller than us by quite a bit I think. Who knows where the attendance numbers are going to shake out, but last year we were one student bigger than Louisburg. We will definitely be one of the smallest."
Although many coaches are excited about the new league, BHS football coach Mike Berg isn't one of them. He is especially sad to see Baldwin's long-time rival Wellsville part ways with the Bulldogs.
"I am going to miss those teams," Berg said. "It's going to be a lot different now. I think it will be competitive, but we go from being in the middle to being at the bottom. I will definitely miss those other schools."
Stevanus agreed about missing the Eagles, but he is excited to see how the new league shakes out this year.
"It will be interesting," Stevanus said. "We've always been competitive with these schools anyway, but we will be near the bottom of the totem pole. It's a really good group of schools. We all have the same vision and values and we work together well. It's going to be a good change, it's just going to be kind of different not having Wellsville and the others not in the league anymore."