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Council Bluffs Thomas Jefferson at West High football

West fans cheer for their team as they take the field during Wolverines football action against Thomas Jefferson at Olsen Stadium.

Jim Lee, Sioux City Journal

SIOUX CITY | In this case, less is not more.

The idea of combining Sioux City’s three public high schools into one football team to raise the ability to compete with teams across the state was embraced by some, but for many of those closest to those programs it is less than ideal.

The idea gained notoriety two months ago at a Sioux City School Board meeting after the public schools finished with six combined wins. East was 4-5, West 2-7 and North 0-9, marking the second straight year none of the schools reached postseason play.

Using the latest available enrollment numbers combining the three Sioux City schools would create an enrollment of over 3,000 in grades nine through 11. That is almost 1,000 more than the largest school in the state West Des Moines Valley.

"Our football numbers have been pretty consistent to where we are filling three teams at the freshman, JV and varsity level," East athletic director B.J. Koch said. "I think the only time you would look at that seriously is if the numbers got to a point where we are having a hard time filling a roster and playing games and having to cancel."

East is two seasons removed from seven straight postseason appearances while West and North last reached the postseason in 2013.

Football numbers have been in decline with East going from 150 five-plus years ago grades nine through 12 to 110 now. North was playing with 60 to 70 players on the varsity level this year after head coach Mitch Mohr said there was a spike to 80 during his first year as coach two seasons ago. West first-year coach Joe Schmitz said he had 56 players sophomores through seniors last season, a slight bump over the previous season.

Numbers aren't the lone issue and just having more athletes won't be a cure all. There are other socioeconomic factors involved when trying to compete with the Des Moines area schools.

"I don't see consolidating the schools as the answer because your top athletes are going to do what they do and numbers isn't the only problem," Mohr said.

"(The Des Moines suburbs) are so much bigger than us they can afford to have a kid play just one sport and train year-round for it," Former East coach Bob Goodvin said. "They attend academies in town the average kid can't afford to go to and are being trained by professional people."

Increased numbers also bring other issues, including playing time and the question of whether participation remains strong once a combined team is fielded.

"If you think you are going to take those three schools and just add the rosters and that is what you are going to have you are just not," Koch said. "You are going to lose a ton of kids through that. It would take away some opportunity."

Organization presents another challenge.

"The logistics of it all," Goodvin said. "Where are you going to practice, how are the kids going to get there? I just don't think that is a good idea at all."

Former North and Heelan coach Phil Karpuk is not concerned about the wins or losses a merger would bring.

"It is limiting the number of people that can be educated through the program," he said. "A lot of it depends on the approach to the game at individual schools. It is a difficult task.

"It should be there because it is an education and participating is an important part of that education. If all you are doing is having a franchise do what you want to do."

Schmitz said the idea begs a different question that must be answered before going forward.

“What is the purpose of extra-curricular activities at the high school level?” he said. “To me it is about opportunities for kids to play and grow as individuals. If we combined all three schools you are going from 66 starting spots to 22.”

While the idea may not be popular to many who are or have been connected to the public football programs, it is not an idea that would be squashed by the Iowa High School Athletic Association on face value.

“There is nothing that says they could not do so,” IHSAA Assistant Director Todd Tharp said. “There is something in the share agreement that says if the athletic association feels there is competitive imbalance or unfairness then we can deny that agreement from happening.”

Tharp said there are several factors that would go into deciding the validity of a shared program, including a few key elements.

“If it meant not losing a program, if I thought it was going to be something beneficial to students, if that means they would be able to have an entire ninth-grade level that would be able to play only ninth grade and they wouldn’t have to be brought up play varsity,” he said. “Having a sophomore program, a JV, would all these kids be able to properly participate? Those are concerns I have.”

With nearly every 4A football program chasing West Des Moines Dowling – which won its fifth straight large-school title in November – and West Des Moines Valley, there has been talk about other larger school districts combining in recent years though nothing has materialized.

“There was discussion a year or two ago with the Waterloo schools when Waterloo East was really struggling with numbers,” Tharp said. “There was talk about Waterloo East and Waterloo West combining into one school, but there was more into that with one school being a ninth and 10th grade school and one being 11th and 12th. A little different circumstance.”

Perhaps the biggest hurdle is the individual school history, pride and identity that would be challenged going from three programs to one.

"You take away the identity of your school, you take away the identity of your school team, you take away playing opportunities," Goodvin said. "You lose your tradition."


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