Lake Athletic Conference Splinters
Big changes in conference alignments are now a reality for Region schools this year as the Lake Athletic Conference, once the biggest conference in the state with 16 schools, has officially passed into history. Locally, only the Duneland and Northwestern conferences survive intact from last year.
Even though the LAC was too big to begin with, there was a very competitive balance within the two divisions, Black and Blue. But apparent internal friction of an unspecified nature, whether financial or otherwise, between the suburban and urban schools ultimately led to the conference’s demise. The upshot of the realignment finds the power schools of the Black and the smaller schools of the Blue separating into two new conferences with the Hammond schools left on the outside looking in. Here’s how the new conferences shape up:
Northwest Hoosier Crossroads Conference
Former LAC Black powers Griffith, Lowell, Andrean, Hobart, Munster and Highland combine with Blue division refugee Kankakee Valley to comprise the new seven school Northwest Hoosier Crossroads (?!?) conference.
Had the conference been made up of just the former LAC Black schools, the “Deep Six” conference would have been a great name but Kankakee Valley, a 4A school, is a natural fit size-wise, if not in other ways. The Kougars, who were unable to win consistently in the Blue, will certainly have tough sledding here with the likes of this competition.
Hammond Morton, after finally being released to apply for NHCC membership by the City of Hammond, will continue for the most part to play the old LAC Black schedule and has applied for membership in the new conference. Although Morton would be a nice fit competition wise and would give the conference balance with eight members, membership for the Governors is by no means guaranteed. Conference by-laws will have to be re-written to accommodate any new members and 2009 would probably be the earliest date Morton could join.
Greater South Shore Conference
Further fallout from the breakup of the LAC finds former Blue division members Calumet, Whiting, Wheeler, Lake Station and Bishop Noll joining forces with former football independents River Forest, North Newton and South Central to form the eight team Greater South Shore Conference.
Although the alignment makes sense from an enrollment perspective and should be competitive on the field, the geographical spread of the member schools may become an issue sooner rather than later.
Road games at North Newton, South Central and Wheeler mean long bus rides, particularly for Whiting and Bishop Noll, and rising fuel costs could ultimately doom the fledgling conference.
Hammond Athletic Conference (Newly Independent)
It was most certainly folly, but the official stance out of downtown Hammond when the LAC split up and Hammond was left out of the new conference configurations was that the Hammond schools should and would stick together.
So faced with no other viable alternative, the Hammond schools have put up a good front by forming the Hammond Athletic Conference. Realistically, this loose four school configuration has little meaning outside of the City of Hammond as the Hammond schools were all required to play one another every year anyway; leaving each with six open dates on their respective schedules.
So even though the public perception that the Hammond schools were shunned by their former brethren when the LAC broke up is doubtlessly true, despite the formation of their own conference the reality for erstwhile LAC Blue members Gavit and Clark and former LAC Black members Morton and Hammond High is that they find themselves joining East Chicago Central this year in playing an independent schedule.
And as EC Central can attest, playing an independent schedule can be tough. The majority of Region schools have conference memberships, which makes finding local opponents to play that have open dates on their schedules difficult, if not impossible.
Frequently, independents have to travel outside the area to fill out the schedule, although the Hammond schools were fortunate this year in that they could pick up games with EC Central and the Gary schools, which always seem to have open dates.
But the real downside to playing an independent schedule is not having anything to play for. The regular season has less meaning without a conference championship to play for; a reality that still applies to the Hammond schools regardless of the formation of their own conference.
Plus, there is little chance to develop any real rivalries like those that develop when playing conference opponents. And another downside to playing as an independent is that you may not be able to play any potential sectional opponents in the regular season due to their conference affiliations.
But all hope for the future is not lost in Hammond. Obviously, the formation of the “Hammond Athletic Conference” is merely a stopgap measure. Whether school city administrators saw the light or realized they had no other choice the four schools have been released to seek their own destinies. And given the size and cultural differences in the four, it’s the right move.
On many levels, Morton belongs with the rest of the former LAC Black in the Northwest Hoosier Crossroads; and then maybe they would even change the name. Down the road, perhaps after the Greater South Shore falls apart due to geographical issues, maybe Gavit and Clark could form a conference with Bishop Noll, Whiting, Calumet, Lake Station, River Forest and either Wheeler or Hanover Central, which should have a football program in the next few years. And Hammond High could join with EC Central and the four Gary schools to form the “City Six” conference. It may or may not ever happen, but it all makes perfect sense; so if it doesn’t happen, maybe that’s why.