The Northeast Iowa Conference saga takes a new turn

In a bid to save the league, superintendents vote to scrap Waverly-Shell Rock in 2023

Northeastern Iowa Conference schools superintendents voted 5-1 Monday to remove Waverly-Shell Rock from the league, after the 2022-23 school year.

The conference realignment saga in northeast Iowa has taken another turn.

A league that seemed to be on life support just a week ago, the Northeast Iowa Conference might survive, after all.

And it could expand.

The NEIC’s executive board – made up of all six principals – voted Monday by a 5-to-1 margin to remove Waverly-Shell Rock from the NEIC.

“You’re watching our conference now, and Waverly-Shell Rock continues to grow,” said Decorah Community School District Superintendent Mark Lane. “The rest of us feel good if we stay stable.”

Waverly-Shell Rock has a BEDS (grades 9-11) number of 596. The other schools are Decorah (430), Charles City (399), Crestwood (305), Waukon (286) and New Hampton (272).

“They’ve become so different from the rest of us,” New Hampton Superintendent Jay Jurrens said. “WSR’s (K-12) enrollment is 2,200 and ours is 930.

“Waverly-Shell Rock is a good school, but it’s all about the numbers, and it’s not more complicated than that.”

Crestwood, Waukon and New Hampton are the targets of an expansion bid from the Upper Iowa Conference.

All superintendents will report the new resolution to their respective school boards. If adopted, Waverly-Shell Rock will be removed from the league at the end of the 2022-23 school year.

WSR had the only dissenting vote of the six superintendents.

“We get it. It makes sense,” Waverly-Shell Rock athletic director Greg Bodensteiner said.

“The only options (for NEIC expansion) are smaller schools, and we’re kind of an insurmountable obstacle in that regard.

“We didn’t help ourselves with the (2020) incident (in which a Charles City baseball player was racially teased by fans during a game with WSR), and we’re trying to improve ourselves in this regard.”

The NEIC has been around since 1920, and for most of its life it has been a pillar of stability.

The league had operated as an affiliation of the same seven schools from 1968 (when Waukon joined) until 2021 (when Oelwein left for the North Iowa Cedar League).

Of course, the NEIC can’t just send WSR on its way and continue with five members.

“We would look (to expand) with schools that are similar in size to ours that don’t require a lot of travel,” Lane said.

Potential expansion candidates could include a comeback by Oelwein (BEDS 266), as well as North Fayette Valley (249), Osage (226) and Sumner-Fredericksburg (202).

And what would be the next step for Waverly-Shell Rock?

“I really don’t know,” Bodensteiner said. “We would have some options, but we have no direction at the moment.”

The Mississippi Valley Conference will be reduced to 15 schools at the end of the current school year, and the potential arrival of WSR would neutralize the departure of Waterloo East.

The Iowa Alliance conference will begin operations in 2022-23 with 11 schools, and WSR would provide an even number in the northern half, joining Waterloo East, Mason City, Fort Dodge, Marshalltown and Ames.

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