HOLDREGE — Holdrege High School has taken the first steps to return to the Southwest Conference.
Holdrege School Board members voted Monday night to make the move and Superintendent Todd Hilyard said he has submitted a letter of application to the Southwest Conference and notified the Central Conference of its intention to leave.
“This is something that’s been on the radar and off the radar .... for quite some time, but it never got to the point it was this serious,” Hilyard said.
But declining enrollment in Holdrege, which has dropped from Class B to Class C1, had school officials evaluating the situation.
“One of the board committees made the recommendation to full the board after quite a bit of discussion,” Hilyard said. “They felt, for our students, there was a better opportunity for greater success in the Southwest Conference. ... And things we had in common (with the Central Conference schools) 15 years ago are less in common than they are these days and as we look into the future.”
Holdrege was a founding member of the Southwest Conference in 1928 and was in the league until joining the Central Conference 18 years ago.
By NSAA enrollment figures, Holdrege ranks as the eighth-largest school in the Central Conference. By comparison, it would be the third-largest in the Southwest Conference.
“And looking at our elementary enrollment, we might slide down a little bit more in the next few years,” Hilyard said.
The move is contingent on an agreement with the Southwest Conference. Hilyard said Holdrege has “a pretty good feel” that it will be accepted.
“Informally, every so often or so they would reach out to Holdrege and say, “We sure would like to have you,’” he said. “Our hope is that the powers that be in Southwest Conference vote us in and we could start competing next year.”
Holdrege does offer some sports that most other Southwest Conference teams don’t. McCook is the only one currently playing tennis. Four of the eight Southwest Conference schools have softball, which will create some scheduling issues.
Hilyard said he would expect the Dusters would “continue to play a lot of schools we currently have on our schedule” and only need to pick up events during the dates set aside for the conference soccer and softball tournaments. The Central Conference doesn’t have a tennis championship.