Fairfield Ledger

Mt. Pleasant News   Wash Journal
Neighbors Growing Together | Sep 22, 2018

Burlington asks to join SEC

Original member of the ‘Little Six’ wants to join Southeast Conference in 2019
By Justin Webster | Mar 23, 2018

1919-1937 Little Six

Burlington, Fairfield, Mt. Pleasant, Muscatine, Ottumwa, Washington


1937-1958 Little Six

Burlington, Fairfield, Ft. Madison, Keokuk, Mt. Pleasant, Muscatine, Ottumwa, Washington


1958-1968 Southeast Six

Centerville, Davis County, Fairfield, Ft. Madison, Mt. Pleasant, Washington


1968-1973 Southeast Seven

Centerville, Davis County, Fairfield, Ft. Madison, Mt. Pleasant, Oskaloosa, Washington


1973-1983 Southeast Seven

Fairfield, Ft. Madison, Keokuk, Mt. Pleasant, Oskaloosa, Washington


1983-1996 Southeast Seven

Fairfield, Ft. Madison, Keokuk, Mt. Pleasant, Ottumwa, Washington


1996-1998 Southeast Seven

Fairfield, Ft. Madison, Keokuk, Mt. Pleasant, Oskaloosa, Ottumwa, Washington


1998-2018 Southeast

Fairfield, Ft. Madison, Keokuk, Mt. Pleasant, Washington


For the last 99 years, Fairfield, Mt. Pleasant and Washington have shared a conference.

The league these institutions shared for the first 18 years was called the “Little Six” and included Muscatine, Ottumwa and Burlington, with the Grayhounds now asking permission to rejoin these three schools along with current members Fort Madison and Keokuk.

It all started in July 2017 when Burlington’s Athletic Director Zach Shay, Principal David Keane and Superintendent Pat Coen began discussing options regarding a change in conference affiliation, with their eyes set on the Southeast Conference.

Shay said that, “We’re the smallest 4A competitor in football and our enrollment is trending downward.” He added, “In fact, I would be surprised if we weren’t a 3A school in just a few years.”

Although the Grayhounds are actually the 38th largest district in the state, making them the fifth smallest competitor in 4A football, they are still nearly one-third the size of West Des Moines Valley who has almost 2,200 students in ninth through 11th grade.

In comparision, Burlington has 832 students in the three-grade range whereas the largest current member in the SEC, Mount Pleasant, only has 477. Washington has 445, Fort Madison 424, Keokuk 414 and Fairfield 375. For additional reference, Ottumwa has 930 and Oskaloosa has 496.

I mention the Bulldogs and the Indians because they were both invited to a sitdown with Burlington and the current SEC schools to discuss a larger merger. According to the ADs around the conference, Ottumwa is currently in sort of a stalemate and Oskaloosa declined the invitation altogether.


Fairfield Activities Director Jeff Courtright listed out the positives for the Trojans.

- Travel is convenient for our teams, fans, and the school district.

- Allows us to fill more dates with a team in close proximity.

- These are the same athletes that we compete against in middle school, as Burlington and Ottumwa are in our middle school conference.

- Burlington is currently able to field several levels of competition (9/JV/V) in all sports.

- Adds strength to our conference by adding teams

- Allows for more flexibility when scheduling SEC games.

- Will provide new opportunities in scheduling for some sports.

- Allows for some sports to go back to having SEC tournaments


What do current Trojan leaders think?

The Ledger asked the current roster of coaches what they thought about the move and they were very positive.


Do you like this move and would you vote yes if given a choice?

Volleyball, Diana Drish:

I would vote yes.


Boys’ basketball/golf, Mick Flattery:

I have always thought they should be in.


Track, Brian Dunlap:

This seems like a great move for our conference. A five team league is not ideal.


Girls’ golf, Joe Kruzich:

Definitely like the Burlington move to the SEC and would vote YES.


How would this impact your program?

Drish: This will impact our program in a positive way. We can restructure our schedule so that we can do a conference tournament, which would allow more dates to open up and allow us to find other teams to compete against as well.


Flattery: We play them in middle school sports already, so the transition would be smooth for athletes since they compete against each other in seventh and eighth grade. For basketball, it gives us two more guaranteed games. We would not have Friday nights open anymore or have to go find teams that could play on that night. Finding non-conference teams to play on Friday nights is very difficult.


Dunlap: The biggest impact on the boys’ track program would be the fact that it would add another team to our conference track meet.

That would be a great thing. A five team track meet doesn’t make for the best competition. It would make it tougher to win conference titles, but those titles should be tough to win.


Kruzich: From any sports standpoint, added competition is a great thing. For scheduling, it makes the out-of-conference scheduling easier by not needing so many of those games. I just think it brings more competition and forces our teams to step up their levels of intensity, which is never a bad thing.


Would Burlington be a level competitor if added to the conference in your sport?

Drish: I do believe Burlington would add competition for us.


Flattery: Competition wise, Burlington would be good for us. Only a 40 minute drive on four lanes is good.


Dunlap: Burlington would fit right in with our league in track and field. We compete against them at area invitationals a few times each spring as it is.


Kruzich: Everything is cyclical. I’m sure they will have years where they are stronger in some sports than others, just like other teams in our conference. We have competed well against them in certain sports in the past even though they are a bigger school, so I would envision that to stay consistent.


Are there other schools you would like to see added either in addition to Burlington or before them?

Jeff Courtright: We have tried to expand our conference for many years now and have invited a few schools to consider our conference. The issue is that there are not many schools with similar enrollments as SEC schools in the southeast corner of the state.

Most of the surrounding schools seem content in their conference affiliation. I cannot speak for them, however, I would guess that the most likely possibility would be Ottumwa. If they expressed an interest in also joining the SEC then I am sure the schools in the conference would listen and give them consideration.

When we discussed the addition of Burlington into the SEC at our most recent coaches meeting, all coaches present at the meeting indicated that they were in favor of the addition.


Flattery: Ottumwa would be another team.

They also play us in many middle school sports, and they used to be in the SEC at one time. Once again, like Burlington, an easier transition. Liberty is committed to the Mississippi Valley Conference and CC-A to the WaMac for several years now I would assume.


Dunlap: I played in the SE7 as an athlete and Ottumwa was a part of it, they even were when I started my coaching career here at Fairfield. They are a part of our middle school conference, as is Burlington. It seems to work just fine at that level. I think it could work at the varsity level as well.


Kruzich: Ottumwa would be natural just by location and is a school that I feel we would welcome as well. It would be nice to have an even number to avoid “off nights” during the basketball season for example.


The Ledger also spoke with Keokuk Activities Director Zach Summers and Washington’s Brent VanWeelden who were both positive about the possibilit of expansion.

The most interesting thing seemed to be that both schools actually find that they have an advantage schduling non-confernce games as the southern and northern most members, respectively.

“Scheduling can be quite a bit easier for us than the rest of the SEC because we are closer to the Williamsburgs, Clear Creeks and Solon type schools,” said VanWeelden. “Our travel probably isn’t as much as the other schools who have to drive farther north, but it will be nice to get two more conference games in most sports that we won’t have to schedule. Since we play them already in some sports it will just be adding one game and shuffling around the schedule.”

Summers mentioned that although Keokuk can dip into Illinois and Missouri for competition, which is more difficult for Fairfield, Fort Madison and even Mount Pleasant, they will also enjoy the set games and the stability more teams brings to a conference.

VanWeelden isn’t as confident as some that other schools will follow the Grayhounds.

“It makes the most sense for them to come over to the SEC for us, but I don’t know if it makes the most sense for them. I don’t think Oskaloosa is ever going to come back and Ottumwa has some things that they need to shuffle around. With them playing in the CIML in Des Moines, that’s a big thing for them. Those would be the natural fits and both have been in the conference in the past, so that’s who makes sense to look at first, but I’ve only been an AD for two years now and with all of the discussions we’ve had in the past I can’t see that happening in the near future.”

VanWeelden did say they would be open to expansion north of Washington, but again wasn’t sure who that would include.

“Clear Creek is in a good conference already and Iowa City Liberty is going to be a huge school before long, so I’m not sure that’s what we want. We tried to get Mid-Praire in at one time and they are not interested. There just aren’t many 3A schools in our area, so if any of them would, we would listen but most of them already have good situations.”

Courtright, Summers and VanWeelden did all express the same idea which is, “As long as the other schools are in favor, we’re in favor and we haven’t had any pushback yet.”

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