EPWORTH — After months of hand wringing and indecision, Western Dubuque has opted to make a move.
The Western Dubuque Community School District board of education voted 3-2 Monday night to accept an invitation by the Mississippi Valley Conference to join the league in 2018-19.
“I knew it was going to be close,” Western Dubuque Athletics Director John Hlubek said after the meeting. “It’s going to be a nice challenge, but it’s a challenge that we’re going to have to get ready for.”
With the addition of Western Dubuque and Iowa City Liberty, the MVC will become a conference consisting of 16 schools.
It had been a 14-team league since Cedar Rapids Regis, Cedar Falls, Waterloo East and Waterloo West came aboard in 1992. The only other change in the past quarter-century was Regis’ transformation to Cedar Rapids Xavier in 1998.
“We’re really fired up to get them,” said Scott Kibby, who will be Liberty’s first principal when that school opens next fall (Liberty will compete as an independent in all sports in 2017-18). “I think they’ll be a really good fit.”
Cedar Rapids Kennedy AD Aaron Stecker said, “Of all the schools that could have joined, Western Dubuque made the most sense for a lot of reasons.
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“Their programs are competitive, and are going to get more so. They have good numbers at the lower levels. And geographically, it makes sense. It won’t put a strain on travel budgets.”
Western Dubuque has been a member of the Wamac Conference since 2003, after the Big Bend Conference broke up. With an enrollment of 724 students in grades 10-12, it is by far the largest school in the Wamac.
It will be the fourth-smallest school in the MVC, larger than Xavier, Dubuque Wahlert and Liberty.
“We’ll be going from being the big fish in a small pond to being the small fish in a big pond,” Hlubek said.
Last fall, Hlubek polled 22 varsity coaches. Sixteen expressed a desire to move to the MVC.
“I was in favor of it, and so were the principal and superintendent,” Hlubek said. “There are going to be growing pains. We don’t have as many coaches as the other MVC schools. But that’s the way it is.”
Western Dubuque’s exit — and Anamosa’s move to the River Valley Conference — will leave the Wamac with 14 schools in 2018-19.
The wheels for Western Dubuque’s decision started turning last summer.
MVC officials said in August that they had sent letters of inquiry to all Class 4A and Class 3A schools east of Interstate 35, hoping to locate a 16th member once it was clear Liberty was going to join.
In November, Hlubek said that the popular opinion was that the school should take the leap, and a decision was expected in December. Then, it was delayed to Monday’s meeting.
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