Ozark 7 Conference future murky

Wednesday, December 27, 2017
Purdy’s Tyler Keeler drives to the basket against Verona during action earlier this season. This year will be the last time the Eagles and Wildcats face each other as conference opponents, as Purdy has opted to join the Southwest Central League. Jared Lankford/sports@cassville-democrat.com

Purdy, Southwest to join new affiliation

Ozark 7 Conference members were notified this last that they lost one member and will soon lose a second for the 2018-2019 school year.

Last Monday, the Purdy school board voted unanimously to leave the Ozark 7 Conference and accepted a long-standing invitation to the Southwest Central League (SWCL).

Jay Fields and the Southwest baseball team will play their final games as members of the Ozark 7 Conference in the spring of 2018. The Trojans are expected to accept an invitation to the Southwest Central League. Jared Lankford/sports@cassvile-democrat.com

“A year ago the SWCL approached us about potentially joining,” said Steven Chancellor, Purdy superintendent. “We did not act upon that request. Then, about two months ago, the SWCL approached us again and asked us to revisit the invitation. We felt, and our board felt, that the time was right.”

Part of the SWCL’s need to add teams was the fact that two of its members, Clever and Forsyth, were departing for the Mid-Lakes Conference (soon to be the Ozark Mountain Conference), which lost Ash Grove, Pleasant Hope and Marionville to the newly announced Southwest Conference.

Additionally, the Ozark 7 Conference was dealt another blow when the SWCL invited Southwest to join as well.

According to Tosha Tilford, Southwest superintendent, the district plans to formally accept the offer at its January board meeting.

“We discussed the matter at our December meeting and my board was all in favor,” Tilford said. “Honestly, I don’t think a vote is needed, but we plan to take that step to make it more inclusive. This offer came out of the blue. I received the request on Dec. 8 and was taken totally by surprise.”

The two Ozark 7 Conference schools join Blue Eye, Spokane, Galena, Billings, Sparta, Crane and Kirbyville (K-8 only) in the SWCL.

“I think the move is going to be good for us,” Chancellor said. “The SWCL play will be a step up in grit and will challenge our athletes. There are some opportunities now for our junior high athletes that weren’t there before.”

Chancellor told the Purdy school board that travel costs on the varsity level would be neutral. Something that Tilford said would be true for Southwest as well.

According to Tilford’s figures, varsity travels distances would only vary

2-4 miles between SWCL opponents and Ozark 7 foes.

The biggest difference would be on the junior high level.

“With the SWCL, we would be an all-public school conference,” Tilford said. “Some of the schools in our current conference do not offer junior high, or even in some cases, junior varsity sports. I believe that hurts our programs when we can’t get our younger kids game time experience.”

With the Ozark 7 Conference now down to five members, the group, according to Verona Superintendent Tony Simmons, is being as proactive as they can be.

“We are looking at all options on the table at this time,” Simmons said. “We are kind of land-locked when it comes to finding schools our size. Personally, I think that Exeter, Wheaton and Verona need to be united in whatever decision that is made. We do have two schools that have sent out feelers for Ozark 7 admission, but we’ll need an official letter requesting admission before that can fully be discussed.”

Simmons declined to name those two schools, but Chancellor told the Purdy school board that one was Golden City and the other was a private school. According to Tilford, that private school is College Heights Christian Academy in Joplin. Both schools are current members of the Spring River Valley Conference (SRVC), which will end this year.

According to Simmons and other SRVC officials, Liberal and Jasper have offers to join the Western Missouri Conference.

“We still believe the Ozark 7 is a viable option,” Simmons said. “I think in the next 30-60 days this will be settled.”

Verona would be one of the largest high schools in the Ozark 7 next season with an enrollment of 198.

Golden City has an enrollment of 154 and Thomas Jefferson had 152.

Purdy and Southwest were the largest two schools in the Ozark 7 with enrollments of 207 and 217, respectively.

“I believe, in the long run, the SWCL is the best move for Southwest,” Tilford said. “It is hard to leave the Ozark 7 Conference. We were a founding member, but our board and I believe the time is right.”

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