By David Sharp
The Knox County R-I Board of Education unanimously voted to accept an invitation to join the Lewis and Clark Conference, effective in the 2016-17 school year.
The action was taken during the regularly scheduled March 17, 2015 KCRI meeting. Board President Kelly Hayes read a letter from Dr. Kelly Shelby, Superintendent of the Westran School District inviting Knox County to join the Lewis and Clark Conference.
Board Members Mark Cardwell, Shelly Bugh, Nathan Shinkle, President Kelly Hayes, Justin Parrish, Matthew Reel and Karen Hall voted in favor of a motion made by Mark Cardwell and seconded by Shelly Bugh to accept the invitation.
“We have got a great school here,” Knox County R-I Board of Education President Mr. Kelly Hayes said. “”We are so happy that we are going to be able to be in a wonderful conference that we are looking forward to getting into.”
“We had to choose what we would do,” Kelly Hayes said. “With Putnam and Milan leaving and going to the Grand River. That put us in a predicament. The Tri-Rivers unfortunately has to go somewhere.”
Knox County R-I Superintendent of Schools Mr. Andy Turgeon recommended that the Board accept the invitation. Mr. Turgeon spoke to Edina Sentinel sports writer David Sharp after the open session.
“Obviously the Tri-Rivers goes way back, so there is some sadness that goes with that,” Andy Turgeon said. Knox County joined the Tri-Rivers Conference in the mid 1970’s after leaving the Clarence Cannon Conference.
The conference move was preceded by Milan and Putnam County accepting and invitation from the Grand River Conference in February of 2015. Previous to the Milan and Putnam County move, members of the Tri-Rivers Conference approached the Lewis and Clark Conference about a merger.
After the merger was voted down by three Lewis and Clark member schools, The Milan and Putnam County school boards voted to join the Grand River. There was discussion about bringing Canton and Marion County into the Tri-Rivers despite the fact the Tigers and Mustangs do not offer 11 man football.
The Tri-Rivers and Lewis and Clark Conferences have rules that state member schools must offer 11 man football as a condition of conference membership.
The remaining four Tri-Rivers Conference schools petitioned the Lewis and Clark Conference for membership. Knox County, Scotland County and Schuyler County were offered LNC bids.
“We feel so sorry for North Shelby,” Kelly Hayes said. “They are our Tri-Rivers Conference brothers and sisters. We have to do what’s best for our school right now and for our kids.”
Superintendent Turgeon informed the Board in open session that the North Shelby school district has reached out to Knox County for the possibility of forming a varsity football coop.
There was also a brief discussion during open session about the possibility of Knox County and Brashear forming an 11 man football coop sometime in the future.
Knox County has hosted a Middle School football and softball athletic coop with Brashear for several years.
Published reports, confirmed by the Edina Sentinel indicate North Shelby has also reached out to the South Shelby district about a possible 11 man football coop.
Low participation numbers has been a major contributing factor to North Shelby losing their last 56 varsity football games. The Raiders are universally respected In Northeast Missouri for their effort and desire shown on the football field during the skid.
“I know it is going to affect people differently,” Andy Turgeon said. “Be that what it is. When Milan and Putnam left, we were left with little options. Lewis and Clark is very appealing.”
“School sizes are comparable. We are extremely excited to join their conference,” Andy Turgeon said. Paris, Westran, Salisbury, Marceline, Fayette and Slater are the current members of the Lewis and Clark Conference.
Slater will leave the LNC at the close of the current school year and Harrisburg will join next season.
Conference membership opens doors for athletes, scholars, musicians, fine arts and other extra curricular activity participants for competition and recognition.
“I feel like this will be an excellent opportunity for our kids,” Kelly Hayes said. “It is an excellent move for us. Academics wise. Sports wise. There are just so many opportunities for the boys and girls in the Lewis and Clark.”
Knox County could have continued as an independent like Canton and Marion County. Conference membership is generally considered more beneficial by educators due to scheduling and opportunities for recognition.
“When you are not in a conference, there is a lot of student recognition programs that don’t exist that do in a conference,” Andy Turgeon said. “You have all conference in sports. There are more opportunities for students to get recognized.”
“In the Tri-Rivers Conference we did the traveling band. We did the art shows,” Andy Turgeon said. “You also have Campus Bowl tournaments. Scholarships are made available through conferences.”
The Lewis and Clark Conference is one of the top small school conferences in Missouri. Marceline or Westran have been in the Class 1, 11 man football state championship game the past two seasons.
Salisbury was undefeated in boy’s basketball, ranked second in Class 2 before Canton eliminated the Panthers from the 2015 MSHSAA basketball championships in the quarterfinal round.
Salisbury’s Class of 2015 are undefeated in boys’ conference basketball, riding a 40 game winning streak. Salisbury won the 2015 LNC girls’ basketball conference title.
Salisbury and Westran have been traditional softball powers. Hall of Fame Coach Kelly Odneal led the Hornet baseball and softball teams to the playoffs numerous times.
Harrisburg has a strong basketball tradition. The Lady Eagles have played Harrisburg the past two seasons. Knox County plays several LNC members in football, softball and basketball now.
Marceline’s girls have won 20 basketball games each of the last two seasons, reaching the district finals in 2014 and the semi finals in 2015. Westran has a strong tradition in girl’s basketball, reaching the final four several times in recent years.
Westran’s boy’s basketball teams have been successful as well. Fayette has a solid boy’s track program. Marceline has won Class 1 wrestling championships in recent years. The list goes on and on.
Knox County will bring the 2014 undefeated conference softball champions to Lewis and Clark Conference play in 2016. The Lady Eagles have won or played for district softball championships since 2008.
Knox County was second to Scotland County in both the 2015 conference and district championships. Knox County won 19 games despite a murderous schedule along with back to back boy’s basketball conference titles.
Knox County was second in the 2014 Tri-Rivers Conference football standings with a 7-4 overall record. Eagle track and field athletes have competed in the MSHSAA Track Championships almost every year since Knox County went to Class 1.
Kelsey Cahalan won the 2012 state championship in the girl’s 800m run. The Eagles are improved in baseball and should bounce back from an injury riddled 2014 season.
“I can tell you we are competitive,” Andy Turgeon said. “We like to be competitive every year. I believe we will be competitive. I think we have great sportsmanship.”
“I look forward to sharing our sportsmanship with the Lewis and Clark Conference,” Mr. Turgeon said. “We would be willing to share our academics, sharing our successes and how we get to those successes.”
“We are pretty excited,” Andy Turgeon said.
The Edina Sentinel has been unable to confirm if Schuyler County or Scotland County have accepted invitations to join the Lewis and Clark Conference. A formal letter of acceptance will be sent by the Knox County R-I administration in the coming days.
Knox County will continue membership in the Tri Rivers Conference the remainder of this school year and next season. The Edina Sentinel will reach out to current Lewis and Clark member schools along with North Shelby, Scotland and Schuyler County for comment in our March 25, 2015 print edition.
See the full KCR-1 School Board Meeting held Tuesday night, March 17, 2015, below.