SOUTH HAVEN — Since 1952 South Haven High School has been a member of the Wolverine Conference. But that could change next year.
Athletic officials and coaches are considering joining the Berrien-Cass-St. Joseph (BCS) League.
“We received a formal invitation from the BCS in late winter,” said South Haven Athletic Director Adam Verseput. “It wasn’t something we sought out, but once we received the invitation it seemed like something that at least deserved consideration.”
The BCS consists of 15 schools in Southwest Michigan. The league is divided into two divisions. The Red Division consists of Division 2 and 3 schools, while the White Division consists of smaller Division 3 and 4 schools.
Ones in the Red Division similar in size to South Haven include Berrien Springs, Buchanan, Parchment and Comstock – teams that South Haven has often played in previous non-league contests. The other schools are Bridgman, New Buffalo, Niles Brandywine, Lake Michigan Catholic, River Valley, Benton Harbor Countryside Academy, Covert, Lawrence, Marcellus Howardsville Christian, Michigan Lutheran and Watervliet Grace Christian.
If most of the schools in the conference appear to be smaller in enrollment than South Haven, there is a reason – they are. Which is one of the reasons South Haven is mulling whether to switch leagues.
The Rams have played in the Wolverine Conference since its inception in 1952. But over the years South Haven has lost enrollment, more so than other schools in the league.
“We are a small fish in a big pond,” Verseput said, pointing out that South Haven has the least enrollment in the league, with 586 students, while Sturgis has the most at 951.
“Our level of competition isn’t as compatible,” Verseput said. “In some sports we’ve very competitive, but in others we struggle. Over the last five years, we’ve finished seventh overall in the conference. ... Moving into a conference with schools of similar size might help.”
Additionally, if South Haven were to switch, away contests would be closer to home. Right now South Haven’s closest competitor in the league, Allegan, is 40 minutes away, while it takes nearly two hours to travel to Sturgis. Most other conference games involve at least an hour-long drive.
“In the BCS, most away trips would take 45 minutes to an hour,” Verseput said. “Maybe more fans would take trips to see the teams play.”
Most South Haven varsity coaches apparently feel the same way as Verseput.
“I talked to varsity coaches and the reception was very good,” Verseput said. “It was almost unanimous among the varsity coaches to switch.”
Verseput also set up a public forum earlier this summer to solicit comments from the public and other coaches.
“About 40 people attended,” he said. “Almost to a person, everyone was positive.”
South Haven Board of Education’s athletic committee has also studied the proposal and is receptive to changing conferences.
“I was definitely skeptical at first,” said board member Doug Ransom. “We’ve been ‘Wolverine’ forever.’” But, he went on to say, “Adam has done a good job of gathering opinions. We don’t have a ton of teams.”
Before South Haven can change leagues, the school board first has to give its blessing. The board’s next meeting is Sept. 18. If it gives the nod to switch leagues, then the the proposal will go to the Wolverine Conference’s Board of Governors in October for formal approval.
“If all of that happens in a timely manner then there is the possibility of us competing in the BCS for the 2020-2021 season,” Verseput said. “This is all not a done deal, but so far we’ve received enough positive feedback that the process continues to move forward.”