Prior to schools closing on Friday, March 13 the athletic directors from the Central States Activities Association (CSAA) met with representatives from three other conferences (West Michigan Conference, Lakes 8, and O.K. Silver) to highlight what we offer both our student athletes, as well as our students in general. The CSAA is an “activities” conference. While that includes all of our athletic teams, it also includes several non-athletic ventures that allows our students to showcase their talents with students from 13 other schools across West Michigan. This is one of the many advantages to the CSAA, and a draw for many schools in other conferences.
Unlike other conferences, the CSAA offers Quiz Bowl, Forensics, Writing Competitions, Art Competitions, Talent Revue, Honors Band and is primed to offer more if the demand is there. Our students, not just our athletes, can earn all-conference, win a conference championship, and interact with students from other league schools throughout the year. Kent City won the conference in both Forensics and Writing this past year! This activities approach allows our member schools to reach more students than any surrounding schools.
The conference is divided into two separate divisions, the Silver (Hesperia, Holton, Lakeview, Kent City, Morley Stanwood, and White Cloud) and the Gold (Big Rapids, Central Montcalm, Chippewa Hills, Fremont, Grant, Newaygo, Reed City, and Tri-County). Another huge advantage to the CSAA is our schools’ willingness to work together to make decisions that are best for our kids. For example, although we are one as a conference, each division is able to make decisions on what is best for their schools. In some instances, we have different rules/regulations for teams in the Gold than what is true for teams in the Silver. A one size fits all approach limits schools in other conferences, but not in the CSAA. What is best for the student-athletes at Kent City might not be what is best for the student-athletes at a much bigger school, like Big Rapids. Therefore we have the autonomy to make decisions at a more local level among schools our size, with similar interests.
This is certainly not the case in our former conference. The realignment poised to go into effect this coming fall is an excellent example. Their latest realignment, which is based on enrollment, geography, and offerings, narrowly reached the needed tw0-thirds vote, 35-14 on its 3rd try. In the CSAA, schools wanting to change divisions must apply and be accepted by the schools in that division. This leaves it up to the individual schools, not someone from above. If you look at the O.K. Silver for the fall, Kent City would be the smallest public school by over 100 students, and the discrepancy from the biggest school in the conference to the smallest . . . 440 students!
We also offer sports in a bronze division that allows smaller schools to field teams that others may not have within their division, in a bigger conference-wide group. Currently boys soccer, girls golf, boys golf, and girls soccer are all part of the bronze division with schools from the gold and silver competing together. Until 2018-2019, bowling was a bronze sport, but has since added enough teams to split into a silver and a gold division. Next year (2020-2021), competitive cheer will be added as a league sport in the bronze division.
The West Michigan Conference (WMC) is also looking to expand, because after nearly 88 years, the “competitive balance” is out of whack with the disparity in enrollments. Leaders of the WMC are hoping to create two tiers in their conference and have solicited interest from several area schools to make that happen. They are emulating the blueprint of the CSAA and hope to also add activities to their conference in the future. We (Kent City) have made it very clear to them that we are extremely satisfied with the CSAA and would welcome some of their smaller schools to join us in the silver division. Not too long ago, Hart applied to the CSAA and was very close to making the jump, but rescinded their application at the eleventh hour. Another school who has shown interest, and would make a lot of sense, are our western neighbors. They are the right size, their location works, and they offer all the same sports. In fact, their superintendent tweeted the following recently:
“Ravenna votes yes to expand WMC, otherwise the CSAA is looking favorable! Letter of interest for CSAA is ready to be submitted.”
Greg Helmer — @HelmerGreg — March 25, 2020
I don’t want anyone to get the wrong impression, we have a lot of respect for our surrounding schools and their respective conferences. A good example of that mutual respect is our work together in wrestling. Last year we put together a dual-season schedule for teams in the West Michigan Conference, Lakes 8 Conference, O.K. Silver Conference, and the CSAA Silver. We worked together to ensure that each Wednesday night teams from all four leagues would have quads against like, area schools. Next year, the CSAA Gold is going to join the conglomerate, while the O.K. Silver has made plans within the O.K. Gold Conference. We would like to see this expand to other areas as well, especially at the middle school level.
Recently, the talks between conferences has garnered interest from local newspapers. Both Scott DeCamp from the Muskegon Chronicle/MLive and John Raffel from the Big Rapids Pioneer have published articles. To read those articles, use the following links:
We will continue to work at the conference level and with schools in our area to do what is best for our kids. In our minds, competing with schools similar in size, location, and make-up not only in athletics, but all activities is or top priority when it comes to determining what conference affiliations we choose to be a part of. Until that changes, we are very pleased with the Central States Activities Association and the benefits it offers all of our students!