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Cornbelt ADs vote to discontinue volleyball tourney, basketball classics

Freeman’s Nicholas Helderbrand (14) goes up for a layup as he is watched by Menno’s Andrew Schaeffer (22) during a Cornbelt Conference boys basketball game in January. (Aaron Saunders/Republic)

FREEMAN — Due to low attendance and declining revenue, the Cornbelt Conference has decided to discontinue the girls and boys basketball Cornbelt Classic and the Cornbelt volleyball tournament.

It was voted on by the conference’s athletic directors at their April meeting. The vote was 5-2 in favor of abolishing the tournaments. Conference representatives for Bridgewater-Emery, Canistota, Freeman, Hanson and Howard all voted in favor of discontinuing the tournaments, while Menno and Marion each voted against it.

The motion to do away with both tournaments was made by Hanson and seconded by Canistota. While the motion has already been passed, Cornbelt Conference chairman and Freeman athletic director Don Hotchkiss said it will not be finalized until the group’s next meeting, which is today in Freeman.

“Don gave us some time to talk about it with our superintendents and school boards,” Howard Athletic Director Pat Ruml said. “The one bad part about that I see about losing the tournaments is now I have to find another basketball game and a volleyball game. Most of the ADs have their schedules done for next year already, but now we have to go back and find some new teams.”

According to Cornbelt Conference secretary/treasurer Kristina Sage, the conference made close to $2,000 on the classic this year and lost money on the volleyball tournament. Sage, who has been the conference’s secretary since the early 1990s, said the conference has never made money from putting on the volleyball tournament.

“Years ago, when we had an actual basketball tournament that was held over the course of three days and everybody played three games, we made quite a bit of money,” Sage said. “But when the conference started to lose teams, it was hard to get teams to commit to playing a three-day tournament and interest waned.”

When the volleyball tournament hosts two courts with two nets, the conference lost up to $800 per year. This year when the tournament was a one-day event with one net and one official, it only lost around $100, Sage said.

After the motion to discontinue the tournaments was passed, a followup motion was brought to the table by Marion. The motion was to keep the volleyball tournament for one year and assess each team a $100 entry fee. The motion died after it received no second. There were also preliminary discussions about each school paying $700 dues by June to replace the revenue brought in by the two tournaments.

“We have been down this road before, struggling with the conference tournaments for quite a few years now,” Hotchkiss said. “I am kind of torn between the decision actually. I can see good and bad in the decision either way. I think it does water down our conference affiliation real quick because there is no tournament, but the trend is pretty clear that we were losing money. We are about $1,000 short of where we were at this time last year.”

Cornbelt basketball coaches brought the situation to the attention of the athletic directors after this year’s classic, which was in February. Coaches had two concerns with the classics. They wanted to return to the traditional tournament format, which allows teams to play two or three games, not one game. The other concern is that some of the teams could face each other three times in a season.

This was the case for the Marion and Menno girls basketball teams, which played each other three times in the regular season. The Bridgewater-Emery and Canistota girls also faced off three times, twice in the regular season and once in the District 8B basketball tournament.

“I think when the boys had their all-conference game, the coaches discussed the classic and we were all in favor of asking if we could get rid of it,” Hanson boys basketball coach Josh Oltmanns said. “As coaches, we like the fact that we could get a game with another team that we haven’t seen already. There was also a possibility you could see a team three times in a season, with the regular season, classic and the district tournament, and I know coaches didn’t like that.”

The conference’s volleyball coaches were also in favor of nixing the one-day tournament. Menno volleyball coach Rachel Stokes said she would like to see the tournament go back to being a tournament that gives teams the chance to play three games. Prior to the one-game format, which was adopted three years ago, both the classic and the volleyball tournament were multi-game tournaments. Hotchkiss said the conference tried an eight-team tournament, but when teams began to co-op, it threw the numbers off. After that, he said the conference went to having Class A junior varsity teams compete in the tournament.

“It really wasn’t a tournament anymore,” Stokes said, adding her athletic director Jacque Liebl is looking for an additional tournament or game to add to take up the vacancy in next year’s schedule. “I don’t like losing the tournament, but it wasn’t the best thing for the teams in our conference.”