Lowell Area Schools has declared its intent to join a newly-formed, school-based league in West Michigan. River Cities Alliance is made up of seven inaugural member districts who plan to function as a conference beginning September 2024.
LAS joins Allendale Public Schools, Cedar Springs Public Schools, Coopersville Area Schools, Greenville Public Schools, Kenowa Hills Public Schools, and Sparta Area Schools in creating the alliance after a realignment of the OK Conference was announced earlier this year. The redrawn conference would have made for longer travel times for LAS teams and families.
The new conference will apply to sports and academic teams as well as fine arts competitions.
LAS Superintendent Nate Fowler says besides not having long travel times to games and competitions, the new league will benefit LAS with the ability to “settle into a consistent set of teams that we play over time.”
Forming a new league will mean figuring out game schedules for all sports, Fowler adds. However, he says the new scheduling plans should work out. “We feel good about being able to fill schedules for all of our teams.”
There has been pushback from the former conference. OK Conference members voted 35-13 against the seven districts leaving, but Fowler says the district is leaving the conference in spite of this vote.
“We realize that moving out of the league creates holes in the schedules for teams in the OK Conference,” he says. “We moved quickly so that the OK Conference had time to adjust their schedules for next year.”
The new league consists of districts of similar sizes. The average school size in the new league is approximately 955 students. LAS has 1,078 students.
As a member of the OK Conference White Division, Lowell’s main local rivalries have been with Forest Hills Central and Northern, East Grand Rapids, and Greenville.
As it has been with the current conference, the River Cities Alliance will allow for non-conference competitions with those who were previously conference rivals. For instance, this fall, LAS’s football team played Mattawan and Thornapple Kellogg, both of which are not in the district’s current conference.
“We hope to schedule non-conference games in all of our sports with teams who we faced when we were in the OK White Division,” Fowler says.
The alliance will also apply to academics and the arts. “We envision in a few years having additional opportunities for students in these areas,” according to Fowler. “While nothing is set, wouldn’t it be great to offer programs for honors music ensembles, debate, forensics, quiz bowl, robotics, or e-sports?”
Pete Bush has been appointed commissioner of the River Cities Alliance. Bush has served as athletic director of Cedar Springs Public Schools, varsity baseball and basketball coach at Lowell High School, and high school principal at Coopersville, as well as superintendent of Sparta Area Schools.
Fowler says Bush is a great choice as commissioner.
“Pete and I taught at Lowell High School together. I always admired his work ethic, integrity, and commitment to student success,” Lowell’s superintendent says. “Over the years, as our paths have crossed in other areas, he has continued to demonstrate those traits.”
LAS will continue in the OK Conference for the 2023-24 school year.