By Ryan Costello, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle
ENID, Okla. —
Enid High School will join the Oklahoma Big 10, a new athletic conference formed last week and slated to start play for the 2014-15 school year, solving years of scheduling woes and putting the Pacers and Plainsmen in a conference for the first time since 2008.
In addition to Enid, the Oklahoma Big 10 will include Lawton, Lawton Eisenhower, Bishop McGuiness, Choctaw, Del City, Midwest City, Putnam City, PC-West and PC-North.
The new conference alignment will not impact sports that participate in districts assigned by Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association, such as football, baseball, soccer, dual wrestling and fastpitch softball, but will apply to basketball, golf, tennis, volleyball, swimming, track and cross country.
The move to the Oklahoma Big 10 is expected to be felt most by Enid’s basketball teams, mainly in the hit-and-miss nature of non-conference scheduling.
“We really had to mix and match and go a lot of places,” said Enid boys basketball coach Ryan Wilkinson. “As far as scheduling goes and making this easier for us, it definitely does that.”
Wilkinson, who will be in his third year at the Plainsmen’s helm for 2013-14, the final season for the Plainsmen to play without conference affiliation, said the opening-year schedule hasn’t been hammered out yet. A statement released from the new conference Tuesday said schedules should be complete by March 2014.
One thing’s for certain: Enid’s won’t be easy.
The Plainsmen will play among a group with that has won 15 boys basketball state titles since 1998, four each for Putnam City and Midwest City and eight — one in Class 5A and seven in 4A — for Bishop McGuiness.
“You’re looking at Midwest City and Putnam City being there, if you’re looking at the last two decades, probably the two most successful programs,” said Wilkinson, whose 2012-13 team finished 1-4 against teams slated for Oklahoma Big 10 membership. “Games are gonna be tough, and wins are gonna be tough, but when you get those wins, they’re gonna be viewed as high-quality wins.”
“We’re excited to be in a conference,” said Enid football coach Steve Chard, who was Enid’s representative at the budding conference’s three organizing meetings. “It’s hardest on basketball to not be in a conference. The state mandates districts in football, so we have our schedule in front of us … We’ve had a hard time (scheduling) with basketball, and a lot of trips playing teams a long way away. Without a conference, things change every year, and there’s no real rivalries.”
The conference’s 10 basketball teams likely will be separated into two five-team divisions, with divisional members playing each other twice and cross-divisional opponents each playing once.
The move largely was in response to the formation of the Central Oklahoma Athletic Conference, a 12-team group that combined members of the longstanding Metro Athletic and Mid-State Conferences and one — Deer Creek Edmond — from the Suburban Conference.
That conference, formed last month, will include the Edmond, Norman and Moore school districts, as well as Mustang, Yukon and Deer Creek, and will begin competition in the 2014-15 season.
But the move, an apparent stab at reinvigorating interest in prep conference play in a district-dominated athletic landscape, left the remaining members of the Metro Athletic (Choctaw, Putnam City, PC North and West) and Mid-State (Midwest City, Del City) without a conference beyond the 2013-14 season.
“The sad thing is in February of this year at one of our conference meetings, (Edmond Schools activities director Mike) Nunley wanted to combine the (Metro Area) and Mid-State and make a 16-team conference,” said Putnam City Schools activities director Dick Balenseifen. “For whatever reason, they changed their minds … That’s the way it goes. We’re happy to move on.”
For Enid, the spurned teams’ lack of a conference led to its first membership in a conference since the dissolvement of thes hort-lived Centennial Conference after the 2010-11 school year. EHS had left the Mid-State Conference after the 2006-07 school year. The new loop means a reunion with Midwest City and Del City. Ponca City considered and eventually declined to join the Oklahoma Big 10, and the conference’s formation was made official last week after three months of meetings when Bishop McGuinness confirmed it would fill the 10th and final slot.
“Basically what happened is when the Metro Area and Mid-State split up, those of us in the OKC area started talking and started bouncing around the idea,” Balenseifen said. “We knew that Lawton and Lawton-Eisenhower always wanted to be in a conference, and I just randomly picked up the phone and called Steve (Chard) in Enid, and that’s how it started.”
At first, conference championships are likely to be played in the Oklahoma City area, the geographical center of the 10 teams, but that could change, Balenseifen said, a notable possibility for Enid, which just completed the basketball-ready Enid Event Center across the street from David Allen Memorial Ballpark, a hopeful site for any future conference baseball tournaments.
“Realistically, it’s not about the adults, it’s about the kids.” Balenseifen said. “We created this conference so our kids can compete and have conference championships, because not every team can win a state championship.”