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Death throes be damned, NEIC should make deal with Green Devils

Death throes be damned, NEIC should make deal with Green Devils
Press photo by John Burbridge
Jace Cavanaugh of the Chucktown Wrestling Club works to earn one of several victories of his during a youth tournament hosted by Osage. In a more perfect world, Charles City and Osage would be Northeast Iowa Conference rivals.

By John Burbridge

Considering all the Alan Parsons Project pomp and circumstances played at sport venues ahead of the national anthem, I have to say Osage’s presentation before its home varsity wrestling dual meet against Charles City earlier this season stands out by itself and could easily give Shawn Micheals a run for his money.

And it was complemented by the packed-house event that preceded it.

Before the high school meet, Osage hosted a youth wrestling tournament that featured participants from the Osage and Charles City communities and/or school districts. The tourney utilized three mats where the action was non-stop for more than two hours.

The brevity of 1-minute periods added expedience to the collective effort as most of the matches were entertaining and highly competitive.

The final bout proved to be the main event: Russell Gisleson vs. Nathan Peters. Both representing Osage, they were by far the littlest Green Devils from the entire green-hot lot. And wrestling perhaps for the first time with a near-capacity gym watching and cheering them, they seemed to be having the times of their young lives regardless of the outcome.

Later, Osage — ranked No. 1 in Class 2A at the time and ahead of placing third at last weekend’s State Dual Meet Tournament — cued up the entrance soundtrack for its varsity lineup wrestlers. Accompanying the introduction/walk-out music were multi-photo displays on the scoreboard showing each Green Devil wrestler in present form and back in the day when they were roughly Gisleson and Peters’s age, donning headgear and singlets, some already adorned in green.

It got me thinking: this is the type of program that would be right at home within the Northeast Iowa Conference, a league with a reverent wrestling legacy dating back to its inception more than a century ago in 1920.

Well, it was fun while it lasted. On Tuesday, the superintendents of the Upper Iowa Conference voted to admit Crestwood into its conference beginning with the 2025-26 school year. With Oelwein’s previous departure in 2021 and the pending exit of Waverly-Shell Rock after this school year, the NEIC will be down to five schools next school year before the Cadets’ forthcoming adieu, which would drop it to four.

Four is not fantastic for the oldest conference in the state. In fact, it’s a death knell as the remaining survivors — Charles City, Decorah, New Hampton and Waukon — are scrambling to seek future shelter.

There has been a formal request issued to Charles City’s school superintendent to inquire about acceptance into the North Central Conference. Current NCC members include Algona, Clarion-Goldfield-Dows, Clear Lake, Hampton-Dumont/CAL, Humboldt, Iowa Falls-Alden, Fort Dodge St. Edmond, and Webster City.

With the prospect of having no more conference contests against longtime rivals and nearby neighbors New Hampton and Waverly-Shell Rock, and getting saddled with periodic 125-mile treks to Fort Dodge with Clear Lake being Charles City’s nearest NCC neighbor 46 miles away, conference road trips will average just under 85 miles for Comets and their fans throughout this new era.

Something to think about during winter-smitten school nights.

Osage is one of 18 members of the Top of Iowa Conference — The Big 18. The conference even highlights the triple-six-sum number in its official logo. Like the so-called “Big Ten” in college, the TOI is divided into two divisions: East and West. The Green Devils are in the TOI East, but were recently asked to shift to the TOI West to create a more competitive balance. Osage’s school board rejected the offer last June and decided to stay in the TOI East at least one more school year after the current one while keeping future options open.

The Green Devils were also invited to join the NEIC at about the same time of the TOI division-switching proposal, but rejected that offer, too.

This may be a moot point now with Crestwood out the door, but if the NEIC wants to save itself it should seriously revisit trying to attract Osage into its fold.

And Osage should seriously reconsider any such revisitation.

The biggest problem with this is, of course … it makes the most freakin’ sense!

The prime suspect behind NEIC being torn asunder is Waverly-Shell Rock. The insufferable Go-Hawks have had numerous complaints about them regarding sportsmanship … or lack thereof … harassment … racism. But when the most ardent Go-Hawk-haters talk a little too long about the subject, they reveal their real beef with WSR as well as its most egregious sin: sustained excellence throughout the four sport seasons.

Such prowess tends to set the standard for conferences of merit, especially those which have merited 104 years of existence. At a more accommodable school size yet formidable nonetheless, Osage would be the ideal choice to fill the void left by WSR.

The school’s close proximity, especially in relation to Charles City and New Hampton, also makes freakin’ sense as the five schools excluding Crestwood and including Osage form an elliptically aligned constellation along northeastern Iowa’s topography — almost as divine as a halo. Hey, maybe NEIC should tempt Saint Ansgar, too!

Plus, Charles City and Osage have a competitive yet cordial and collaborative vibe between them, something preferable among would-be conference rivals. Charles City’s boys basketball coach, Ben Klapperich, was a sharp-shooting Green Devil during his prep career; the Comets girls tennis team usually fills both varsity and junior varsity matches — thus, granting more student-athletes playing time — during its annual meets with Osage; and until recently, the two schools would alternately host “Saturday Night Wrestling”, a traditional weekend night dual meet late in the regular season.

Charles City’s athletic interactions with Osage are very similar to those with New Hampton. Such mutual relationships often forge the integrity for strong and solid conferences.

Even in a parallel universe where the Green Devils agree to “traverse the NEIC halo” with no defections from the remaining four, that would still leave five which is barely viable as it is. Maybe some schools from the Big 18 or 17, especially those who have become perennial powers in one or more sports and are looking for room to grow, might want to come aboard early into NEIC’s brave journey into another century.

But back to reality … it’s just a damned shame that even a heightened urgency to strike a deal with the Green Devils will likely not save the NEIC from a fate far worse than damnation.


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