End Of An Era For Oelwein High School Basketball Teams
One-hundred years of tradition ended for the Oelwein High School boys and girls basketball teams Tuesday night.
The Huskies played Waverly-Shell Rock in their final league games of the season. They were also the last league games for Oelwein as a member of the Northeast Iowa Conference.
After a century of membership, the Huskies are leaving the NEIC this summer. They will be making the move to the North Iowa Cedar League, a circuit that currently has 15 teams: AGWSR, Aplington-Parkerburg, BCLUW, Denver, Dike-New Hartford, East Marshall, Gladbrook-Reinbeck, Grundy Center, Hudson, Jesup, La Porte City Union, South Hardin, Sumner-Fredericksburg, Wapsie Valley and Waterloo Columbus Catholic.
Oelwein has been in the Northeast Iowa Conference since 1920. Oelwein founded the league, along with six other schools: Charles City, Cresco (now Crestwood), Decorah, New Hampton, Osage and Waverly (now Waverly-Shell Rock). With the exception of Cedar Falls joining in 1948, then leaving -- along with Osage -- in the early 1960s, the membership in the NEIC has remained stable since the circuit was formed. Waukon was the most-recent addition, joining the league in 1970.
"I think it's really remarkable. It's historic," Oelwein Schools Superintendent Josh Ehn said, referring to the NEIC's membership stability. "For the last 50 years it's been these seven schools."
The Northeast Iowa Conference is one of the oldest high school leagues in the state.
School size was one of several factors that were considered when Oelwein District administrators made the decision in 2019 to switch conference affiliations. Oelwein will go from being the fourth-largest district in the NEIC to the biggest in the NICL.
"Twenty or 30 years ago, the enrollment alignment was very similar across all the (NEIC) school districts and that's what drove stability," Ehn said. "In the last 10 years, there's been significant growth in a few of the districts and there's been decline in a few others. There's been a separation, so to speak, in enrollment, and also the types of enrollment. Some of those districts, say, have gotten wealthier. The Oelwein School District, in particular, has struggled -- like the (city's) population -- with our numbers.
"We know there are certain challenges that come with that type of enrollment," Ehn said. "We couldn't see ourselves aligned with the interests of the NEIC any longer. We got an invitation (to join the NICL) and felt the enrollment and enrollment-type of the NICL was more condusive to where our enrollment is at currently and where we saw ourselves in the next 10 years."
Scheduling was another factor behind the conference change. Currently, each school in the seven-team NEIC has to find anywhere from 10 to 12 non-conference opponents to play in basketball, baseball, softball and wrestling. In the 16-team NICL, Oelwein will only need to find 3 or 4 teams to complete the non-league schedules.
Ehn believes the conference switch will benefit Oelwein. The district's top administrator knows first-hand what it's like to compete in the North Iowa Cedar League. Ehn graduated from BCLUW High School in Conrad, where he was a multi-sport athlete.
"Personally, I'm excited because I know about the prestige that comes with the NICL," Ehn said. "I say that not slighting the NEIC. The NEIC is one of the most-prestigous conferences in the state because of its longevity, its tradition and the competitiveness of sports that has taken place in that conference for years.
"I'm excited that we're not taking a step back," Ehn stated. "I don't believe that Oelwein is moving to a lesser conference. We're moving to a different conference -- one that is also prestigous and one that is also very competitive. It just more aligns with the current status of where our district is at right now. Through a lot of self-study and looking at where we are at as a district, it is time."