CHARLOTTESVILLE — For the first time in two years, Eastern Hancock belongs to a conference. The Royals, who have competed as an independent since the 2010-11 school year following the dissolution of the White River Conference, are now members of the Mid-Hoosier Conference.
MHC administrators approved EH last September. Originally, the Royals were slated to join their new conference in individual sports this school year and in team sports next fall. However, EH athletic director Aaron Spaulding said the school was able to get its schedules in line with the rest of the MHC and that his programs are “100 percent” committed for 2012-13.
“We were concerned out of the gate as to whether we could get all of our team sports in. Individual sports were a lot easier because there’s generally just one meet — like a cross country meet for instance — where all the schools just got on one day,” Spaulding said. “We were able to get those schedules matched up.”
The Mid-Hoosier Conference currently contains eight other schools: Edinburgh, Hauser, Indian Creek, Morristown, North Decatur, South Decatur, Southwestern and Waldron. Knightstown will be admitted as the conference’s 10th member in 2013-14. EH effectively took the place of Triton Central, which left the MHC for the Indiana Crossroads Conference.
The MHC will serve as Eastern Hancock’s third conference affiliation since the school’s inception in 1969. EH was a member of the Big Blue River Conference from 1969 until 1989. The Big Blue River experienced a mass exodus of schools in 1989, forcing the Royals to function as an independent athletic program before joining the White River Athletic Conference in 1997.
Aside from the ability it gives his athletes to compete for conference championships and to garner all-conference honors, Spaulding is eager to see his program finish atop the MHC’s All-Sport Points Standings.
The higher place a sport finishes in its respective conference race — 11 points are awarded for first place — the more points the sport accumulates for its school. At the end of the school year, a boys’ and girls’ champion is determined.
For the 2011-12 school year, Hauser won the boys’ title with 50.5 points and Indian Creek took the girls’ championship with 55.5 points.
“It collectively puts our athletes in a position where they’re competing together,” Spaulding said. “It makes every conference game meaningful.”
The Mid-Hoosier Conference’s sports are volleyball, baseball and softball as well as the following boys’ and girls’ sports: tennis, cross country, golf and basketball.
Most MHC schools do not have wrestling and swimming programs.
Four MHC schools that compete in football — Eastern Hancock, Indian Creek, North Decatur and South Decatur — belong to the Mid-Indiana Football Conference, and Knightstown will compete in the MIFC next season. Milan also competes in the MIFC. Triton Central was in the MIFC before its departure.
Though his team isn’t directly affected by the school’s new conference, EH football coach Pat Echeverria believes in breeding a championship-winning mentality for all blue-and-white athletic programs.
“They have the conference championship, they have their county championship and now they go on to the sectionals,” said Echeverria, now in his second season. “It gives them experience with the tournament format. I think it’s going to help all of our sports.
“You have a consistent pool of teams that you’re going to be playing with every year.”
Spaulding, who will enter his 14th season as EH’s boys’ basketball coach this winter, spent the summer tinkering his own squad’s schedule in addition to rest of the Eastern Hancock teams.
The boys’ basketball team has 20 games on its docket for next winter. Seventeen of those opponents are a conference, county or a potential sectional opponent.
“It ties some stakes to most games we play,” said Spaulding, whose unit finished last season 12-11 and reached the sectional finals. “It helps you motivate emotionally and mentally.”
According to 2011-12 IHSAA figures, Eastern Hancock is the third-biggest school in the Mid-Hoosier Conference with 351 students. Only Indian Creek (611) and North Decatur (366) have higher enrollments. Waldron (228) possesses the lowest student body total.
Erin Wolski, coach of the EH boys’ and girls’ tennis teams, is looking forward to the opportunity to play schools of a similar size on a regular basis.
“Being a part of a conference can help make matches more competitive since they have more riding on them,” said Wolski, in her second season coaching both tennis programs.
Spaulding said the only downside of the Mid-Hoosier Conference membership is the lengthy travel time that will occur. Excluding Knightstown (6.1 miles) and Morristown (15.3 miles), each of the other MHC schools is at least 37.5 miles away from Eastern Hancock. Indian Creek is the furthest from Charlottesville at 60.3 miles.
“That will be a little bit of an adjustment for us, so we’ll have to certainly get used to that a little bit,” Spaulding said.
Linking up with the MHC also presents Spaulding with another way to measure the success of EH’s athletic programs.
“Some schools in various parts of the state are well-known, but they’re only known for one thing. Maybe they’re known for football, softball, whatever,” Spaulding said. “I really want it to be where all of our sports are very competitive and this gives us a good opportunity to do that.”
For Echeverria, belonging to the MHC or MIFC is a no-brainer.
“It’s great that we’re in a conference,” said the former Pike assistant. “There’s no reason we shouldn’t be in a conference.”
MID-HOOSIER CONFERENCE PRIMER
Distance from Eastern Hancock to MHC schools
Edinburgh: 52.2 miles
Hauser: 46 miles
Indian Creek: 60.3 miles
Knightstown: 6.1 miles#
Morristown: 15.3 miles
North Decatur: 41 miles
South Decatur: 56.0 miles
Southwestern: 38.3 miles
Waldron: 37.5 miles
# Joins MHC in 2013-14
Eastern Hancock: 351
Indian Creek: 611
North Decatur: 366
South Decatur: 286
# Joins MHC in 2013-14
EH Conference Timeline
Big Blue River: 1969-1989
White River: 1997-2010
Reigning MHC champions
Girls’ golf: N/A
Boys’ tennis: Indian Creek
Girls’ cross country: South Decatur
Boys’ cross country: Indian Creek
Girls’ basketball: Triton Central*
Boys’ basketball: Edinburgh
Girls’ track: Indian Creek
Boys’ track: Indian Creek
Girls’ tennis: Indian Creek
Boys’ golf: North Decatur
Baseball: Triton Central*
*Has left MHC for Indiana Crossroads Conference
Note: Eastern Hancock belongs to the Mid-Hoosier Conference in all sports except swimming, wrestling and football. Most MHC schools do not have swimming and wrestling programs, and not all have football teams. Eastern Hancock belongs to the Mid-Indiana Football Conference with Indian Creek, North Decatur, South Decatur and Milan. Knightstown will join the MIFC in 2013.