by Graham Sturgeon, co-editor
The Genesee Area Conference (GAC) will be losing six of its member schools to begin the 2018-2019 school year, as Durand, Mt. Morris, Lakeville, Byron, New Lothrop, and Montrose will be joined by Ovid-Elsie and Chesaning – who currently compete in the Tri-Valley Conference – in the newly-created Mid- Michigan Activities Conference (MMAC). All eight schools submitted letters of intent to their current conferences by June 30, and the move to the MMAC has been approved by each school’s board of education. Current conference affiliations will continue for the 2017-2018 school year.
The move to create the MMAC was initiated by Durand Athletic Director Rich Balcom, after GAC athletic directors voted in the fall of 2016 to move Durand back into the GAC-Red division after one year of competition in the GAC-Blue. Balcom informed those in attendance at the conference meeting that he would be exploring other options that would allow Durand Area Schools athletic teams to compete with schools closer in size and proximity. Since joining the GAC to begin the 2005-2006 school year, the Durand football team has compiled a 24-77 record in the GAC-Red.
In early 2017, Balcom emailed each of the GAC schools’ athletic directors (AD) – with the exception of “Big 3” schools Corunna, Lake Fenton, and Goodrich – to invite them to join a new conference. He received no response at that time, but the idea began to take shape this spring when Ovid-Elsie AD Sonya Latz expressed her displeasure to Balcom about competing in the TVC. Chesaning AD Robert Sager joined the discussion soon after, and the three then set about gauging the interest of other local schools. The ADs of the eight schools in question met in Montrose in May to solidify the plans to create the new conference, and the request to change conferences was then taken to and accepted by each school’s respective board of education in June.
The creation of the new conference makes sense for the eight schools for many reasons. Goodrich High School has an enrollment of 759 students, Lake Fenton an enrollment of 660, and Corunna an enrollment of 633. Mt. Morris has the largest enrollment of the eight MMAC schools, with 536 students, but the other seven schools have enrollments between 311 (New Lothrop) and 485 (Chesaning). That difference, according to Balcom, regularly made for uneven athletic matchups.
“This move is not going to make any of these teams powerhouses,” Balcom says. “It is just so hard to close that gap in enrollment. In track, for instance, Corunna shows up to meets with three bus loads of students, and Durand’s girls and boys teams all fit into one bus, so us smaller schools don’t have a chance. There is going to be much more competitive balance in the MMAC. Everyone will have a much better chance to compete for conference championships.”
Balcom also points to the geographic locations of the eight schools as a factor in the decision to form the new conference. Lakeville and Ovid-Elsie are separated by a bus ride of more than an hour, but the average travel time for the eight MMAC schools is 34 minutes.
Another point working in favor of the move is the similar athletic programs the eight schools offer. All offer boys and girls cross country, football, volleyball, girls and boys basketball, girls and boys bowling, wrestling, baseball, softball, track and field, and boys golf. Also, seven of the eight offer soccer, and many have competitive cheer teams.
The creation of the new conference will also allow several rivalries to be renewed or continued. The new rivalry between Chesaning and Ovid-Elsie may be the most anticipated, after the two teams were separated in the TVC to begin the 2016 school year. The six GAC teams, five of which will be leaving the Red division, all have
longstanding rivalries, and the neighborly rivalry between New Lothrop and Montrose will now be an annual event.
The athletic directors from the eight MMAC member schools will meet in August to create a constitution, and officers could also be elected in the coming months.