The athletic programs at Perry have struggled in recent years to remain on a competitive level with other members of the Raccoon River Conference. Some would argue the trying times have been in place for even longer, and now the advocates for leaving the RRC have what they believe are a new set of factors strengthening their case — a comparison of free and reduced lunch rates.
Perry High School Principal Dan Marburger and Activities Director Scott Pierce will present an appeal to the Perry School Board at tonight’s meeting (6 p.m. in the Brady Library) seeking approval to apply for admission to the Heart of Iowa Conference.
The RRC was joined, this August, by Gilbert and North Polk, both of them former HOIAC teams, with West Marshall joining the former home of the Tigers and Comets. Including Perry and the two new arrivals, the RRC currently includes ADM, Ballard, Bondurant-Farrar, Boone, Carroll, Carlisle, and Winterset. The HOIAC includes one-time RRC teams Greene County, Nevada, and Saydel, along with PCM, Roland-Story, South Hamilton, and newcomer West Marshall.
If approval to seek application is granted, Perry would make presentations to each of the HOIAC schools. The conference would set a vote on the matter at a future date, in which at least five districts would have to grant approval for Perry to gain admission.
Should the process work in favor of Perry joining the HOIAC, the school could begin participating in August of 2021, although a wait until August of 2022 is equally as likely. Perry has informed the RRC of their desire to seek a new home, but would not officially depart until formally accepted elsewhere.
Perry is arguing that the number of free and reduced lunch students in the district (73.4%, the fifth highest rate in Iowa) unduly hampers the athletic programs. Economic stress reduces the opportunity to participate in camps or on club teams, as students at many districts can, and limits the possibilities of paid, personal instruction many better-off athletes have access to.
Postville (100%) has the top free/reduced rate in the state, with Corwith-Wesley-LuVerne second at 80%, Storm Lake third at 77.2% and Des Moines Public Schools fourth at 73.8%. Denison-Schleswig (71.7%), Hamburg Schools (71%), Orient-Macksburg (70.4%), and Waterloo Public Schools (70.2%) are the only other districts over 70%; the statewide average is 42.4%.
Second-highest in the RRC is Boone (42.6%), with Carroll (35.7%) third behind Perry. Other schools and their rates include Winterset (30.6%), Carlisle (30.2%), Bondurant-Farrar (21.5%), ADM (19.1%), and Ballard (16.4%). North Polk (10%) and Gilbert (9.1%) are the second-lowest and lowest in all of Iowa.
In the HOIAC only Saydel (58.8%) and Greene County (48.1%) are above the state average, with Nevada (34%), South Hamilton (33.6%), West Marshall (30.3%), PCM (24.7%), and Roland-Story (23.8%) completing the list.
Any cursory look at recent state tournaments reveal the most successful teams have well-below average free/reduced lunch rates. For example, 30 of the of the 16 teams in the boys basketball state semifinals and 20 in the girls semis were public schools, and of those only three were above the state average of 42.4%.
The recent state volleyball tourney had nine private and 31 public schools involved. Of that 31, only two were above the state average, and just seven were above 35%.
The Des Moines Public Schools, beginning last spring, began pushing the IHSAA and IGHSAU to consider allowing districts at 10 percent or higher above the state average to have the option of competing at a lower classification. The issue appeared headed to discussion by the two governing bodies, but the COVID pandemic has pushed the issue to the background, though it is not likely to go away.
One of the chief arguments against such a statewide adjustment would be a rush among qualifying schools to play “down” a class, thus flooding the smallest class or two to suddenly absorb a large number of schools. Addressing how to limit such an outcome would certainly be a key issue for both the boys association and girls union.
Those against such a move argue that increased devotion to youth programs would aid struggling districts, although those with weak youth sports also tend to be those with socio-economic struggles.
If approved tonight, the process of Perry leaving the RRC would begin almost immediately. There is, of course, no guarantee that Perry — assuming permission from the board of education is granted — would be accepted into the HOIAC, and, if not, what Perry’s next course of action would then be.
One thing cannot be argued — the numbers are telling a story, and it is not a pleasant one for Perry schools.