Jared Lankford: Change is the name of the game

Wednesday, December 27, 2017
Lankford

After leading Southwest Missouri State University to a basketball conference title, Charlie Spoonhour, Bears coach, was asked by the media if the win and conference title was the biggest accomplishment in his life.

To the media, the question seemed logical, one which they figured was a lead in to the next and would fill the time they needed ó only Spoonhour didnít give the response they anticipated. Spoonhour said it wasnít the biggest win of his career. That honor was reserved for when he led Rocky Comfort to a conference title win over Wheaton.

Spoonhour coached at Rocky Comfort from 1961 to 1963. Iím told that there is still a trophy in that area to mark that historic achievement.

To people of my generation, it is hard to fathom places like Rocky Comfort, Stella, Jane, Longview and several other small communities having high schools. Yet, you can still read of those teamsí sports accomplishments.

Today, those high schools only exist in the memories of the alumni and are represented in how many times larger districts reorganized to absorb the new student load.

Will Rogers once said that things arenít as good as they used to be and probably never were.

For those of us that donít remember the Rocky Comfort teams of the 1960s, it may be difficult to envision how much a conference title meant to that tiny town.

Conference rivalries are something that any fan base looks forward to playing. Growing up and attending Neosho, football was a struggle for our district, but we could go 1-9 on the season and if that one win was against McDonald County, we had a great year.

In 1994, Neosho won the Southwest Conference crown for the first time in nearly a decade. It was an awesome feeling, although short-lived.

A little more than a decade later, Webb City, Neosho and Carthage left for other conferences. McDonald County and Nevada were left in the cold and struggled to find games as independents.

In fact, McDonald County was conference-less until three years ago, when it joined the Big 8.

Now, with the Big 8 set to expand to 14 teams, the Southwest Conference forming with Pierce City, and Purdy and Southwest jetting from the Ozark 7 Conference to join the Southwest Central League, one has to ask, does a conference title still mean anything?

We still track conference records and celebrate conference championships, but are they still appreciated?

There is a growing number of individuals and I find myself agreeing with their positions that we should do away with conferences all together.

When Cassville and Monett won the state football titles, did anyone lament the fact that they didnít win the Big 8 crown as well? Were the seasons considered lacking because no conference banner was hung?

Did Big 8 fans think less of Lamarís state title years when it didnít win the Big 8 crown?

The celebration and goal has now turned to winning district crowns to get to the playoffs.

In a nutshell, in todayís world, all conferences at the high school level do is give the athletic directors a set of school names to fill out guaranteed spots.

Pierce City and the seven other schools that have come together have done so to ensure that they can fill a varsity and sub-varsity football schedule.

In doing so, these conferences have expanded what was once tight geographical areas for conference affiliation.

In the Big 8, Iím sure Nevada is looking forward to the drive to Marshfield.

Honestly, I have no issues with conference realignments. I do feel for the schools left out in the cold, but until the Missouri State High School Activities Association (MSHSAA) steps in to deal with the situation, sports pages are going to be filled with realignment articles.

It is true that football is driving most, if not all, of these new moves. Some conferences will end long-time rivalries. Monett will not play Aurora next season in football during the regular season for the first time in over 80 years, but does it matter?

It mattered to Charlie Spoonhour. It mattered to the people of Rocky Comfort, but times have changed, and now Cassville is part of a 14-school conglomeration that holds on to an 8-team moniker.

Southwest and Purdy will see new faces. Only time will tell if the new conference banners carry the same luster as the old.

Jared Lankford is the sports editor of the Cassville Democrat. He can be reached at sports@cassville-democrat.com, or 417-847-2610.

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