Will bring conference's roster to most-ever 11 schools; also will begin recognizing a loop football champion in 2021-22
By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor
BOSWORTH, Mo. — In one of the more-momentous meetings in the conference’s nearly-6-decades history Wednesday (Jan. 29, 2020), the Carroll-Livingston Activity Association further branched out when it agreed to welcome Braymer and Higbee into its fold over the next couple of years.
Braymer will join in 2020-21 and Higbee in 2021-22.
They will become the fifth and sixth schools added to the CLAA in the past 15 years, following Norborne and Hardin-Central in 2007-08, Keytesville a few years ago and Brunswick a year after that. During that same time frame, one CLAA school – Stet – closed and another – Bosworth – mostly has either shuttered its programs or entered into cooperative arrangements with Hale.
Barring any unforeseen shifts before now and then, the CLAA would have 11 basketball-playing schools in 2021-22, its most ever.
The addition of nearby Braymer had been anticipated by knowledgeable area observers in the aftermath of Braymer’s early-December 2019 notice to the Grand River Conference that it would withdraw from that loop at the end of this school year. Braymer had joined the GRC in 2012-13 after several years as a non-affiliated school following the disintegration of the old Central River Conference.
While Braymer is a logical fit for the CLAA, geographically, the inclusion of Higbee exponentially expands the league’s south-and-east growth pattern of the past 15 years.
The impetus, from Higbee'send, for adding the southern Randolph County school, which will mesh nicely with the selection of sports and activities currently offered at most CLAA schools, was the demise over the past 5-10 years of the conference of which Higbee has been a member most of this century.
The CCAA – originally the Cooper County Athletics Association in the general vicinity around, south, and west of Boonville – had some schools switch to other leagues about 15-20 years ago and brought in some replacements, including Higbee. When much of the original Cooper County schools memberships in the loop disappeared, the conference shifted its official name to the initials list by which it had long been routinely referenced as – the CCAA.
However, additional defections from the small-schools conference continued amid the uncertainty of its future and lack of a stable geographic base. By this school year, there were only four basketball programs in the conference – Higbee, a Prairie Home/Bunceton co-op, Jamestown, and Jefferson City’s Calvary Lutheran.
Beyond the addition of two new members, CLAA schools’ superintendents also voted during Wednesday’s meeting at the Bosworth school to have conference competition in golf (open to players of both genders) in spring 2021 and to recognize a league 8-man football champion in fall 2021.
Currently, all 2020-21 conference members except Brunswick will have football available to their students through four cooperative programs (Southwest Livingston/Hale/Tina-Avalon, Braymer/Breckenridge, Norborne/Hardin-Central, and the new Keytesville/Mendon: Northwestern “Thunder” squad). Higbee does not currently have the sport.
Five schools – Southwest Livingston, Tina-Avalon, Norborne, Bosworth, and Keytesville – have committed to playing spring golf.
In combination, league representatives told the C-T, which covered the meeting in person, the membership expansion and introduction of football as an official league activity could bode additional growth in the number of league schools in the near future.
If that occurs, a geographically-based, 2-divisions setup in some sports would seem a likely additional step as a time and travel-costs management tool. For the time being, however, Higbee, Braymer, and Breckenridge will have 2-hours-plus trips to make to duel each other.
Along with membership expansion – and, in part, related to it, another issue addressed by CLAA schools’ officials at their regular late-January meeting Wednesday was adapting to multiple members’ pending adaptation to a 4-days school week (Tuesdays through Fridays). Southwest Livingston, Tina-Avalon, Mendon: Northwestern, and Keytesville will take that step next school year.
Because of that and with many long trips to be made – most notably for newcomer Higbee, in an effort to lessen extracurricular activities demands on students’ time when they have longer school days, CLAA member schools will endeavor to schedule conference sports contests on Mondays to as great a degree as possible, current conference president Jana Holcer of Tina-Avalon told the C-T.
Formal recognition of football as a conference sport in 2021-22 will mean, under present arrangements, at least three programs involving CLAA schools could qualify for two league titles in the same sport.
Braymer/Breckenridge, Norborne/Hardin-Central, and Keytesville/Northwestern already have agreed to be part of the Central River Conference, which was resuscitated as a 8-man gridiron league by a handful of schools – some of them former members of the old CRC – a year or two ago.
Those three teams will be joined next season by distantly-separated North Shelby, Hughesville: Northwest, and Chilhowee in what is being called the CLAA Division of the CRC. An I70 Division of that league will include Alma: Santa Fe, Concordia, Concordia: St. Paul Lutheran, Orrick, and Sweet Springs.
Assuming that group continues tht arrangement on into the 2021 season and beyond, Braymer/Breckenridge, Norborne/Hardin-Central, or Keytesville/Northwestern could conceivably earn the crown of either or both their division of the CRC and the CLAA’s conference in the same season.
At present, indications are Southwest Livingston’s pigskin program intends to continue competing in the 9-members Highway 275 Conference next fall. Once the CLAA officially recognizes football in 2021, however, in order to accommodate the other three CLAA conference programs in their 9-games regular-season schedule, the Wildcats will have to depart the “275,” since it would have only six – not the needed eight – playing dates available for non-CLAA foes.
There are hints, however, that the Central River Conference would welcome them into its CLAA Division at that time – or earlier, if Southwest Livingston, now certain it will have to leave the next year anyway, decided to depart the Highway 275 prior to the 2020 season.
If Southwest does align itself with the CRC at some point, that conference presumably would logically shift one of the southern,non-CLAA-conference schools (Chilhowee or Hughesville: Northwest) over to the I70 Division, leaving each division with six schools.
In a tangential development, multiple schools south of the C-T coverage area, including one (Slater) which would have been more proximate, geographically, to the CLAA, announced Monday they either are switching to 8-man football in 2020 and have organized into a new conference – the West Central Football Conference.
That group also includes 2019 Class 1 state runnerup Lincoln,Adrian, Crest Ridge, Lone Jack, Cleveland: Cass-Midway, Wellington-Napoleon, Cole Camp, Tipton, and Windsor.
The other new CLAA development from Wednesday’s meeting – the official introduction of golf as a conference-sanctioned spring sport, beginning in the 2020-21 school year – carries a state-competition-eligibility caveat.
With a number of CLAA schools battling stagnant or shrinking student populations, by committing to spring golf, their teams can be co-ed (fall season golf in Missouri high schools is restricted to girls only), thus increasing the potential pool of participants for the programs.
However, the C-T has verified with the Missouri State High School Activities Association, if an individual school sponsors a female player or team during the girls’ (fall) season, its girls are restricted from playing on a spring team. If there is no fall program at the school, they are free to play in the spring.
Naturally, any girls playing in the spring season will compete under the same rules and use the same tee locations as their male counterparts.