GOSHEN — There will be a new conference in Indiana starting next fall.
The Hoosier Plains Conference (HPC) is set to embark on its inaugural season in August 2020. Seven schools — Argos, Bethany Christian, Elkhart Christian Academy (ECA), Lakeland Christian Academy (LCA), Oregon-Davis, South Bend Career Academy (SBCA) and Trinity School at Greenlawn — will comprise the conference.
This is the first time Bethany Christian will be in an all-sports conference.
“We’ve been looking to do it for a while,” Bethany Christian athletic director Gary Chupp said. “I know when Dan Bodiker was the AD here before my time, he made a run at trying to get into the NECC (Northeast Corner Conference). That didn’t work out, so we’ve explored different possibilities the last number of years.”
Chupp said Bethany was deciding whether to go west or east for a conference. Once he heard the South Bend schools, Trinity and SBCA, were also interested in joining a conference, it made the decision to go west easier.
Then, once Argos and Oregon-Davis came into the fold, Chupp knew starting a new conference was imminent.
“When they agreed to get into it, that’s when we got more excited about it,” Chupp said.
The HPC will feature schools competing in boys and girls soccer, volleyball, cross country, boys and girls basketball, baseball, softball and track and field. Some cross country and track teams will feature partial teams since they don’t have enough students to fill out full teams.
Since none of the schools play football, conference volleyball matches will be played on Friday nights. Baseball and softball games will also be scheduled so that teams play at one school on Friday and at the other school Saturday morning.
“It’s been floated around just generically, and most of these schools in it now have had some contact because of the Northern Indiana Soccer Conference (NISC),” Argos athletic director Jon Alcorn said. “That was kind of a connection that kept a lot of these guys in that.”
The NISC, which recently celebrated its 50th season, will still remain intact. The schools currently in the NISC are Argos, Bethany Christian, Culver Military Academies, ECA, LCA and Trinity.
Argos, ECA and Oregon-Davis were part of the Northland Athletics Conference from 1997-2009, but experienced numerous issues with travel in that conference. With half the conference located in northwest Indiana, it was hard to get to and from games in a timely manner.
That’s why when discussions of a new conference began, travel time was the top concern for all parties involved.
“They’re all reasonably close to each other, as far as travel times,” Alcorn said. “We already all play each other. We’re all non-football schools. That kind of was a more natural fit.”
Chupp also noted the commonality of opponents is what helped make the HPC a reality.
“One of the big advantages is we play most of those schools anyway in most sports, except Oregon-Davis,” Chupp said. “So, we didn’t have to juggle around our schedules that much.”
There’s also a potential financial advantage to scheduling conference games, in Alcorn’s eyes.
“I coached soccer for 20 years, so I do know that when you have a conference game, that adds a little more stuff to it,” Alcorn said. “One of the problems these schools have is, since they’re small, some of them don’t travel very well. We’re hoping that the idea of a conference will really boost attendance and things like that.”
A version of the Hoosier Plains Conference has existed since 2017, but it was a basketball-only conference featuring only three IHSAA members: Trinity, LCA and SBCA. Trinity and LCA just recently became IHSAA members, which played a key factor in the new HPC coming into existence.
“Those two made the decision to become IHSAA schools, and that levels the field,” Alcorn said. “That means we’re all playing the same way. It puts a little more expectation on there because you have to have more sports.”
For first-year Oregon-Davis athletic director Jerry Miller, a chance to play for a conference championship is exciting.
“It’s a great opportunity for us to compete against schools like Bethany Christian,” Miller said. “It allows us to compete with schools our size. We’re looking forward to competing.”
“It gives our athletes more to play for,” Chupp added. “They’re playing for all-conference awards, all-conference championships. We’re eventually going to have an all-sports championship.”
At Trinity, athletic director Mike Gionfriddo is looking forward to the effect a conference will have on its athletic program. This is the third year the Titans are under IHSAA provisional status, meaning they can’t compete in the postseason. The provisional status also carries into next season, but ends for the 2021-22 school year.
“I wanted to be able to give our kids something to play for so that these seasons aren’t just ending with nothing,” Gionfriddo said. “So, if they end the season winning the Hoosier Plains Conference, we know there’s a lot of pride in that season.”