O-K Conference gets a new look

Tribune file photoFruitport and Spring Lake line up before the snap during last year's game. 

There’s never a lack of incentive when Spring Lake and Fruitport meet on the athletic field.

After last week’s announced O-K Conference realignment, the two schools will once again be battling it out for conference standings as well as rivalry bragging rights.

In a vote passed 35-14 by O-K Conference principals, the league’s realignment includes the dissolving of the O-K Black division.

That pushes Fruitport into the O-K Blue, along with Spring Lake.

“I think this is just a better compliment of schools that we can compete with,” Spring Lake athletic director Cavin Mohrhardt said. “We’ve got some old rivalries there with Fruitport and Hamilton. One of the reasons why we voted yes is so we can have eight team divisions instead of the seven teams. We just thought this was a better fit for where we are at right now.”

Fruitport gets a big break with the change no longer having to matchup with teams like

Muskegon, Mona Shores and Reeths-Puffer who all have a larger number of students than Fruitport.

“In school size, instead of being at the bottom of the pile we will be closer to the middle,”

Fruitport’s athletic director Ken Erny said. “When it comes to competitiveness, we really look at it from one angle of saying this division will be deeper by far when it comes to the 20 sports. So, it will be competitive and there won’t be any easy games in sports where there were in the Black.”

One of the main selling points of the proposal that made it stand out compared to the others was the fact that it gave certain schools some relief in their divisional rivals. The new look divisions are more balanced than they were before. The big change for Fruitport will be an increase in travel.

“Travel-wise it actually will increase probably 15-20 percent in total miles. Staying in Muskegon County with three opponents with Mona Shores, Reeths-Puffer and Muskegon is obviously the difference. There are some trade offs but Coopersville is really close and Hamilton is not,” Erny said.

For Spring Lake, the fit with the teams competitively is just right, but having eight teams in their division can be seen as both a blessing and a curse.

“It’s a catch-22 because in football almost everybody had seven games and two non-conference games where we had three before,” Mohrhardt said. “Where it helps is as an (athletic director) is we are having to go out and find fewer games because you are going to have two more games in basketball that are league games. In some sports like tennis, golf and volleyball it hurts because we will lose dates to the conference out of the total number of games we have. Now they will have less tournaments and quads that they can go to.”

For Grand Haven, this move doesn’t shake up the O-K Red much. All divisions in the O-K conference will have eight teams, so the O-K Red adds Jenison to the mix. Jenison was a member of the Red through 2011.

“First of all, I think it’s awesome,” Grand Haven athletic director Scott Robertson said. “From an athletic directors perspective, having an odd number of teams in a league is really challenging at certain point, primarily because every week one of the teams has to have a bye in league play. An even number and eight being the even number, we are really excited.”

Robertson sees no downside to the new-look division. It evens out the number of teams and brings a team that had long been in the division back into the fold.

“Jenison was in the O-K Red for a number of years and having the back makes perfect sense,” he said. “They are a great fit for the other teams in the division in terms of what they offer athletically and the types of kids they have, so I think they’ll fit in just fine.”

The new look O-K conference will not come into play until the 2020-2021 school year.


Contact D'Angelo Starks by email at dstarks@grandhaventribune.com or on Twitter @DAngelo_Starks.

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