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Higbee Finally Officially Accepts CLAA Membership Offer

Staff Writer
Chillicothe News
Chillicothe News

By PAUL STURM,C-T Sports Editor

LUDLOW, Mo. — After several months’ uncertainty, it’s finally official: The Carroll-Livingston Activity Association will vastly extend its southeastern peninsula, come the 2021-22 school year.

Initially indicated – in reporting action taken at its late-January meeting – as an accomplished fact, but later clarified as dependent on follow-up action, Higbee will enter the CLAA as a 12th member school in just over a year. After searching further for  possible other options, that school district’s Board of Education earlier this week officially accepted the CLAA’s January invitation.

The addition of the small, southern Randolph County school will follow Braymer’s entry as member No. 11 in 2020-21.

They are the fifth and sixth schools added to the CLAA in the past 15 years, following Norborne and Hardin-Central in 2007-08, Keytesville in 2014-15 and Brunswick a year after that. During that same time frame, one CLAA school (Stet) closed, another (Bosworth) entered into cooperative arrangements with Hale for its high school sports, and a third (Meadville) departed for a different conference.

Barring any unforeseen developments, the CLAA will have 10 schools competing in its bedrock sport – basketball – this coming year and 11 – its most ever – in 2021-22.

Current CLAA president Burnie Schneiderheinze, superintendent of the Southwest Livingston R-1 School District, notes adding schools is a way to offset the consolidation of some programs as current members have dealt with diminished enrollments and fewer students engaging in extracurricular activities.

“Our conference has been looking at expansion over the last few years, due to an increase in schools ‘co-oping’ sports,” he shares with the C-T in his conference capacity.

“The increase in ‘co-oping’ (meaning fewer teams to compete against) has led to fewer opportunities for our students to play sports such as softball and baseball within the conference.”

Where, only a relatively-few years ago, the CLAA softball tournament routinely involved eight or more girls’ teams and nearly that many boys’, the girls number dipped below five as programs were combined and the boys’ sport effectively vanished. Boys’ fall softball essentially segued into a few cooperative baseball programs aimed at getting in some fall action for skill-development purposes before having more-extensive competition, including league and state postseason play, in the spring.

By adding schools, the number of programs in those and other sports should grow correspondingly, providing more opportunities for “truer” league competition.

That goes for football, as well, a sport the league will officially add in 2021-22.

“We hope to continue to expand the conference and add members in the area of football also to create a viable and competitive 8-man football conference in the near future” Schneiderheinze reports.

With Braymer’s entry to the CLAA next school year, nine of the 11 member schools will have the sport available to their students within the framework of four cooperative programs. Only Bosworth and Brunswick will not be involved.

The impetus, from Higbee's end, for hooking up with the CLAA was the continuing demise over the past 5-10 years of its current conference - the CCAA. Higbee has been a CCAA member most of this century.

Originally called the Cooper County Athletics Association, the league saw many original member schools depart for other associations over the past quarter-century. When defections re-accelerated in the past few years amid the uncertainty of its future and lack of a stable geographic base, there were only four basketball programs –(Higbee, a Prairie Home/Bunceton co-op, Jamestown, and Jefferson City’s Calvary Lutheran) in the conference (which officially adopted the title CCAA, rather than its original geography-based name, some years back) this past school year.

While Higbee doesn’t have a football program and doesn’t project to have one in the near future, it otherwise will mesh nicely with the CLAA in the selection of other sports and activities currently offered.

According to the Missouri State High School Activities Association website, it sponsored teams in baseball (fall and spring), softball (fall), track-and-field, and cross country running in addition to girls’ and boys’ basketball in 2019-20.

Its location – about 10 miles south-southwest of Moberly – exponentially expands the league’s south-and-east growth pattern of the past 15 years as charter member Norborne, Hardin-Central, Keytesville, and Brunswick came aboard.

The current CLAA school nearest to Higbee – Keytesville – is about 32 miles, the widest spread between conference neighbors. At the other extreme, the CLAA’s opposite “poles” in 2021-22 – Breckenridge and Higbee – are listed online as being separated by about 110 miles. Braymer and Higbee are shown at 96 miles apart, a distance similar to those for Southwest Livingston and Hale in relation to the future member.

The CLAA began in the early 1950s with seven members – Tina, Wheeling, Hale, Mooresville, Bogard, Bosworth, and Norborne –  – all located in either Livingston or Carroll county.