Who will AC-T dance with now?
Albert City-Truesdale has two worthy suitors to choose from for a new sports sharing partner, but neither are completely the Prince Charming the district perhaps hoped for.
Each has pros and cons to offer. The decision could well have far-reaching consequences beyond the football field and basketball court.
Frankly, the best choice may have been the one AC-T didn't make. It still seems Laurens-Marathon is the most natural of sharing partners, and the current partnership might not have had to end if some progress could have been made on academic sharing too.
The same situation derailed sports from growing into an academic sharing between natural neighbors Alta and Aurelia not so long ago,
Interestingly, the AC-T students themselves said in a poll that those who are willing to see a sharing deal involving their school most often preferred to stay with Laurens-Marathon. It seems the kids get along well, even though their boards of adults haven't been able to negotiate a deal to keep the arrangement going.
Whether AC-T picks Storm Lake or Sioux Central to share with next, there will be a likely expectation of academic sharing in the future, if a stable relationship is going to continue long-term.
And so it should be.
The name of the game here is education, and that is more important than ball games in the long run. Decisions on school alliances and dissolutions should not be made based solely on competitive edges in sports.
Not that sports isn't of value - they are. Our schools put a lot of effort and expense into trying to make sure that al the sports are offered, And students being able to join forces with new faces in another district to learn of teamwork and dedication is an excellent opportunity that will serve them well later on.
In terms of sports, Sioux Central seems to be a fairly good match for AC-T, and many of the students seem interested to see that pairing, ranking it second only to L-M. However, while Sioux Central is willing to extend some events and coaching and practices to AC-T, it is only prepared to offer a two-year arrangement, with both schools to reevaluate after that. AC-T knows it could wind up in the same tough spot again.
Going with Storm Lake would be less a merger, and more of a case of the interested AC-T kids being able to come down and play on Storm Lake teams in the sports that Storm Lake is willing to share. Athletes would be able to compete affordably at a higher level, perhaps, and in a very stable sports program,but with little of their home school identity involved.
It isn't a picnic for Storm Lake, either. Sharing some sports would push the school just into Class 4A, where big, bad schools await cannon fodder. However, if some extensive form of academic sharing would follow, Storm Lake could inherit growth, funding and perhaps some additional staff - although facilities might be stretched.
Sioux Central may be the more likely choice, at least based on immediate sports interests. If broad academic sharing or even an eventual whole-grade arrangement is considered, the picture might possibly be different.
Frankly, I suspect the entire county owes Albert City-Truesdale a vote of thanks. The school's leaders were very open-minded in approaching every district - even a Catholic parochial school - to determine interest in a possible sharing arrangement.
This has caused leaders of every school to step back a bit and consider the opportunities and risks of new partnerships - an issue that is going to stay on the front burner as rural enrollments decline, buildings age and budgets grow ever more strained.
All three districts involved in this dance - Albert City-Truesdale, Sioux Central and AC-T, have been very open about the process also. There has been no secret dealings or behind-closed-door negotiating - the two suitors gave their presentations in front of a crowd of area people in the AC-T gym, and they deserve credit for that.
The next couple of years is going to take a lot of soul-searching, networking, creative use of resources and fresh thinking to keep the area schools vital and healthy.
If sports teaming can be a catalyst for that, great. If sports overshadows the needs and potentials for sharing in the classroom, that isn't so great.
Best of luck to the AC-T folks in making a wise decision; they have done well so far. I hope that they, and all the schools that are or will be in their position, look beyond the scorebooks, and into a future when academic teamwork will help us all continue to make our young people winners in a game even more important than northwest Iowa high school football.