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South Central looks to join the NTC

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By Seth Whitehead

The National Trail Conference and South Central High School have always seemed to be a perfect match.

Problem is, the Fayette County school never had a serious opportunity to court the storied small-school league.

Until last week.

Long reluctant to expand, the NTC officially welcomed Dieterich into the fold last Tuesday, bringing the number of member schools in the league to an undesirably uneven total of 11.

South Central saw this development as an opportunity to make its move. And it did not hesitate to act.

On the same day that Dieterich was cleared to join the NTC, the South Central Unit 401 Board of Education voted to apply for entry into the NTC by the 2009-10 school year.

A letter of application arrived to NTC President Doug Strange's desk on Friday, and the two parties hope to meet sometime before or during Christmas break to iron out technicalities.

Bottom line: South Central should know its fate before the new year. And it's likely the Cougars will be joining the NTC.

"I think it's something a lot of people wanted to see done for a long time," said South Central athletic director Rick Simmons of joining the NTC. "If anything, the board wished we could have done this two or three years earlier, because of the talent we've had come through.

"But there never seemed to be a window of opportunity to join. We're kind of following on the tails of Dieterich."

There are plenty of logical reasons for South Central's desire bolt for the NTC, the most prevalent being directly related to the MTC's recent decision to add five schools from the soon-to-be defunct Mid-South Conference.

The expansion adds a number long road trips to South Central's slate - including a 200-mile round-trip trek to Grayville - presenting obvious concerns about travel expenses and lost classroom time for student-athletes.

"I think that's the way we're looking at it academically and financially, the board, especially," Simmons said. "By adding new teams, you're adding some very long trips."

By comparison, South Central's longest road trip in the NTC would be to Windsor, roughly 48 miles from Farina.

Another factor in South Central's decision was the desire to bolster exposure and the competition level for its programs and student-athletes.

Current members of the NTC have sent 88 teams to state competition, compared to zero by the MTC's current and future members.

"We will be playing very strong competition (in the NTC)," Simmons said. "We could go on in the MTC and do well, win conference titles. But there was a realization that we needed to do something to where we'd prepare ourselves to do well in the state playoffs. We didn't think staying pat was going to get us there."

If all goes as expected, next year will be South Central's last in the MTC. The Cougars have been a part of the league since the consolidation of the Kinmundy-Alma and LaGrove districts back in 1989.

Prior to the consolidation, LaGrove's affiliation with the MTC spanned generations.

"I wouldn't hesitate to say 70 years," Simmons said.

Which is a big reason South Central hopes to make its departure a smooth and respectful one.

While Dieterich plans to immediately bolt the MTC - choosing to compete as an independent next school year before joining NTC - South Central will remain in the expanded conference next year, despite the aforementioned travel concerns.

"My thinking there is twofold," Simmons said. "First, I don't want to put (other MTC schools) in a bind, finding other teams to play in short time period. And I also don't want to put myself in a bind as far as our schedule next year."