Just when it seemed that the waters had calmed concerning conference realignment in Southwest Michigan, two area leagues are expected to lose a chunk of their respective memberships with the berth of a new alliance.
It was announced in June that Bronson would be leaving the Berrien-Cass-St. Joseph League at the end of the 2016-17 school year to join the Big 8 Conference. The BCS began in 2014.
Now, all three St. Joseph County schools — Centreville, Mendon and White Pigeon — along with Cass County seat Cassopolis, are expected to exit the BCS this year as well. Those schools are joining Southwestern Athletic Conference defectors Bangor, Bloomingdale, Eau Claire, Hartford, Decatur and Marcellus to form the Southwest 10 Conference.
Seven of the 10 school districts have already voted in favor of the new league, with the last three unnamed schools expected to vote the same way later this month.
Once again, football was a driving force, though several other factors sparked the initial discussions back in August. It was important for Centreville, Mendon and White Pigeon to stick together after a long run dating back to the St. Joseph Valley League.
Competitive fairness and logistics were two other key concerns.
“(The SAC schools) came into this meeting stating the No. 1 goal is to not have a mega conference,” Mendon co-athletic director Glen Samson said. “They tried to get us to strike while the iron is hot. At the same time they are discussing this with us, the superintendents of the SAC and the BCS wanted us to all get together and form an even larger league, like 35 schools.
“We’ve just not had a whole lot of luck with this large conglomerate. It’s not really a league. You can see people voting on party lines, so to speak.”
A big obstacle in the BCS was football scheduling. The BCS did not make it mandatory that teams play cross-divisional games, which left some schools in the lurch when it came to filling out a nine-game schedule.
For instance, Mendon had to drive to the Upper Peninsula in Week 9 to play Manistique after finding no takers from similar-sized schools and with no desire of its own to compete against the likes of Class B programs up to three times a year.
Current BCS schools like Berrien Springs, Buchanan, Comstock and Parchment — all with about 450 students or more — are twice the size of schools like Mendon (203) and Cassopolis (278).
“This idea came across our table, so we took a look at it,” Samson said. “The schools involved want to keep it to 10 teams. The more we got into it, the more it made sense.
“When Bronson left, it left us with four teams in our division in football. All that guaranteed Mendon, Centreville and Cass were three games. We’re sitting here with three games, and we have to find six and we have to now play two or three Class B schools to fill out a schedule in a league of 18 teams. This is not right.”
A 10-team league solves that issue and makes for easier organization of all other sports. More often than not, Samson and Cassopolis athletic director Matt Brawley agreed, coaches didn’t even know what division their school was in as the groupings changed by sport.
“Scheduling and getting the bylaws in order,” are at the top of the priority list for Brawley. “Right now, things seem to be running pretty smoothly. We have a great group of athletic directors and superintendents working diligently.”
If all goes according to plan, schedules will take care of themselves in the Southwest 10 since most schools offer the same sports. There are five schools that offer soccer with a sixth considering adding it for next season. A positive byproduct would be less travel time.
“For Cass, logistically, our furthest drive (would be) 37 miles,” Brawley said. “Marcellus and Decatur are our next-door neighbors. It doesn’t make much sense not to play them (as is the case now).
“I’m very excited,” Brawley said of a new league without divisions. “What I’m most excited about is being in a league where you’ve got to (likely) win nine games to win the conference championship or go 17-1 or 16-2 in basketball. It holds a lot more weight. The BCS is a great bunch of people, but this opportunity makes the most sense for us.”
Wes Morgan has reported for the Kalamazoo Gazette, ESPN and ESPNChicago.com, 247Sports and Blue & Gold Illustrated over the last 12 years and is the publisher of JoeInsider.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org with story ideas for Berrien, Cass, St. Joseph and Branch counties.
PHOTOS: (Top) Centreville and Marcellus face off in a girls basketball nonleague matchup. (Middle) Mendon and Casspolis will bring their football rivalry to the new Southwest 10 Conference. (Photos courtesy of Wes Morgan.)
Lowell’s Deanne Crowley, Owosso’s Dallas Lintner and Fenton’s Mitch Smelis all have provided more than two decades of service to Michigan educational athletics, Crowley as a highly-regarded coach and administrator, Lintner also as an administrator and educational leader and Smelis as an athletic trainer and prominent voice in the sports medicine community especially in its service to school sports.
To recognize their significant and continued contributions to educational athletics, Crowley, Lintner and Smelis have been named recipients of the Michigan High School Athletic Association’s Allen W. Bush Award for 2022.
Al Bush served as executive director of the MHSAA for 10 years. The award honors individuals for past and continuing service to school athletics as a coach, administrator, official, trainer, doctor or member of the media. The award was developed to bring recognition to people who are giving and serving without a lot of attention. This is the 31st year of the award, with selections made by the MHSAA's Representative Council.
Crowley began her coaching career at Lake Odessa Lakewood in 1987 with subvarsity basketball, and she took over Lowell’s girls varsity program in 2000 after previously beginning her teaching career there in 1998. She remained the Red Arrows’ coach through 2006, that season leading her team to the Class A Semifinals – and she also was named Class A Coach of Year in 2004 by The Associated Press. Crowley became an assistant principal at Lowell in 2010 and the high school’s athletic director in 2013.
She earned her certified athletic administrator designation from the National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association (NIAAA) in 2018 and was named Region 4 Athletic Director of the Year this past school year by the Michigan Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association (MIAAA). Previously, she was named Athletic Director of the Year by the Michigan Wrestling Association for the 2018-19 school year and by the West Michigan Officials Association in 2021. Crowley also is a significant contributor to Lowell’s nationally-recognized Pink Arrow Pride program that raises funds annually for cancer awareness, education and support within the Lowell community; she organizes and coordinates the education program, which among other goals provides scholarships for Lowell graduates pursuing careers in medicine. She also was a co-founder in 2000 of the Lady Arrows Varsity Club, which provides leadership training for female student-athletes who have earned a varsity letter.
Crowley graduated from Lakewood High School in 1983 and earned her bachelor’s degree in secondary education from Western Michigan University in 1997 and a master’s in educational administration from Michigan State University in 2002.
“I have known Dee for over 20 years, and she has always been incredibly dedicated to finding opportunities for all students, especially female student-athletes,” Uyl said. “Her years as a coach and administrator have shown a solid record of finding ways for kids to compete.”
Lintner is returning to Owosso High School as principal this fall after finishing the second half of 2021-22 as interim athletic director at Fenton High School. He first joined the staff at Owosso as a teacher in 2001-02, went to Linden as athletic director for two years beginning with fall of 2008, then returned to Owosso as athletic director and assistant principal from 2010 through the 2020-21 school year. He served as principal at Owosso Lincoln High School last school year until leaving for Fenton.
Education has been a focus of Lintner’s work, and he received a doctorate in educational leadership from University of Michigan-Flint in 2017. He has a certified master athletic administrator designation and has served as a leadership training instructor for the NIAAA since 2015. He also has served as a facilitator for the Love and Logic parenting program.
Lintner has been an active participant with the MIAAA as well, serving as its constitution committee chairperson since 2009. He was a member of the executive board from 2015-20, including serving as president during the 2018-19 school year. As athletic director, he was a frequent host of MHSAA postseason events and a contributor to various committees, and he previously was an MHSAA registered official for track & field and coach in multiple sports. Prior to earning his doctorate, Lintner graduated from Vassar High School in 1995, then earned a bachelor's degree in education from Saginaw Valley State University in 2000 and a master’s in athletic administration from Central Michigan University in 2005.
“Dallas has provided years of solid leadership in Owosso,” MHSAA Executive Director Mark Uyl said. “This consistent approach has led to numerous improvements, and during his tenure as athletic director his school won its first state championship, with the softball program (in 2021).”
Smelis has served as an athletic trainer for 25 years with Fenton Area Public Schools, for the last decade through NovaCare Rehabilitation. He was named High School Athletic Trainer of the Year by the Michigan Athletic Trainers’ Society (MATS) in 2017 and serves as co-chairperson of its Secondary School Committee.
Also a member of the National Athletic Trainers Association (NATA) and Great Lakes Athletic Trainers Association (GLATA), Smelis has become a key connection between the training community and MHSAA. He has contributed as a MATS liaison on multiple MHSAA sport committees, and serves on the Sports Medicine Advisory Committee and as an instructor for the MHSAA’s Coaches Advancement Program (CAP). He also has presented at the MIAAA’s annual and summer conferences on a variety of physical health and safety and mental health topics.
Smelis graduated from Imlay City High School in 1991 and earned a bachelor’s degree in sports medicine from Central Michigan University in 1997. He is a certified American Heart Association instructor for CPR, first aid and basic life support and has served as lead instructor in CPR and first aid for Fenton’s coaches and staff.
“Mitch has been incredibly dedicated to keeping kids safe while playing all sports,” Uyl said. “He also has been responsible for further strengthening the good relationship between the MHSAA and Michigan Athletic Trainers’ Society, and he continues to provide valuable insight as part of our coaches education efforts.”