TAWAS CITY – At a special meeting of the Tawas Area Schools (TAS) Board of Education on Oct. 28, Superintendent John Klinger presented a proposal from Athletic Director Matt Unke for the district to join a newly formed athletic conference for football only. 

Klinger noted that the Northern Michigan Football League (NMFL) was created in part to help independent schools and other schools within conferences fill their 11-man football schedules. Unke, who could not be present at the meeting, provided Klinger with information to share with the board, including current schools in the NMFL, travel distances to those schools, and other details on the district’s efforts to join an athletic conference since becoming independent several years ago.

Seventeen schools currently comprise the membership in the NMFL, the nearest in distance being Grayling (80 miles from Tawas Area) and Jo Burg-Lewiston (89 miles), and the farthest St. Ignace (167 miles) and Harbor Springs (155 miles). In 2020, the league will add Ogemaw Heights (33 miles) and Sault Ste. Marie (218 miles). Klinger said that, if approved, TAHS would join the NMFL for the 2021 season.

In his talking points memo to the board, Unke stated that the advantages to joining the NMFL included:

• All Conference honors for individual student-athletes.

• All Conference titles for team.

• Assurance of playing 11 man football teams.

• Consistent and equitable schedule for this sport (football).

• Schedule that allows for playoff consideration with respect to the Michigan High School Athletic Association’s (MHSAA) new playoff format starting in 2020; and

• Added leverage when applying to the North Star League for remaining sports.

Klinger said that he reached out to former Superintendent Jeff Hutchison regarding efforts to align the district in a conference during Hutchison’s tenure. Hutchison provided an email that was sent to board members on Feb. 13, 2019 which stated similar advantages, but noted that applications to join other leagues had been denied by athletic directors within those conferences. 

He said that applications to the Tri-Valley conference in 2016 and 2018, the North Star conference during the 2016-17 school year, and the Jack Pine conference in 2016 and 2018 were all rejected. Hutchison’s memo stated, “The combination of our size and location create major roadblocks for us.”

TAS Board President Anne Freel expressed her concerns about distance and travel times, especially for the junior varsity team on school nights, noting that the JV team plays on the road when the varsity team plays at home. Freel also commented on the cost of gasoline and the additional miles on the district’s school buses, as well as personal travel issues for parents driving to support their teams. Trustee Connie O’Connor said that one of her issues with the additional travel involved was that it “takes away instructional time” from student-athletes.

Freel added that she had reservations about joining a league for one sport in order to add one additional football game per year without consideration for other sports. Trustee Shannon Klenow voiced support for the proposal, saying it would give TAS “a foot in the door” for other sports to be involved in conference play. Trustee Greg VanderVeen cited the MHSAA’s requirement for nine football games to be played in order to qualify for the state tournament.

Two questions were referred to Klinger for verification before the board would submit the proposal to a vote. Klenow asked as to the deadline to submit an application to the NMFL, and Freel inquired about the cost of the proposal to the district. Klinger said he would refer the questions to Unke in time for the next scheduled meeting on Nov. 11.

The other matter before the board went into a work session was a request by Unke to fill the vacant seventh grade basketball coaching position. Tim Webb has been running the team practices on an interim basis, and Unke recommended that Webb be formally hired for the job. Klinger agreed that it would be better to hire Webb now instead of having him work under an interim status. The board approved Webb’s hiring by a 5-0 vote.