Perry School Board approves transition to Heart of Iowa for 2021

Sean Cordy
Jayna Kenney in action on Monday, Jan. 18 during a road game against Heart of Iowa Conference opponent Saydel. Perry, currently a member of the Raccoon River Conference, will be transitioning to the HOIC beginning in the 2021 fall sports season.

There will be seven new banners hanging in the Perry gym this fall. A member of the Raccoon River Conference since 1991, the Bluejays and Jayettes will transfer to the Heart of Iowa Conference beginning in the 2021 fall sports season.

After deliberation from the Perry School Board over the past couple of years, the board voted 4-0 with one absent vote Monday, Feb. 8 in favor of the transition to the Heart of Iowa after the conference unanimously voted Perry's entrance in January.

"We love the Raccoon River," Perry Activities Director Scott Pierce told the Perry Chief. "The Raccoon's not only been good for us but it's one of most competitive conferences in the state. And everybody of course wants to be in it for the right reasons to give those kids opportunities to be successful and we weren't there."

Life against schools like ADM, Ballard, Carlisle and Winterset, which routinely put forth state qualifiers in multiple sports, has been a difficult road for Perry in recent years. Since the 2018 school year, Perry basketball, softball, girls and boys basketball and volleyball have just one win against conference teams.

"The Heart of Iowa was more attractive in the fact they're more like us and we could be more competitive," Superintendent Clark Wicks said, having been part of the search for the past four years. "People have wanted to stay in the Raccoon. We wanted to be competitive in the Raccoon, but then you have to think about what's going to be best for the kids."

Pierce added that not only have Perry teams been unable to compete with the class of the Raccoon River, but the level of play was also rarely ever balanced, fielding inexperienced student-athletes out of necessity.

"They didn't have the experience, oftentimes they were a freshman or a sophomore. People couldn't see that unless they were [involved with the teams]," Pierce said. "We want this positive snowball effect into the Heart of Iowa. Good changes are coming where it was going to be the opposite way if we stayed in the Raccoon where kids are going to continue to see us get beat that bad and have a lack of participation."

With a number of HOIC schools also struggling with season-to-season success, Perry hopes to find more immediate opportunities. And with North Polk and Gilbert leaving the HOIC this previous season for the RRC, Perry looks to fit right in considering a number of teams are already familiar with the Jayettes and Bluejays.

This season alone, Perry has had moderate success against the HOIC as the girls basketball team earned a W against Saydel and had two competitive games against South Hamilton and Greene County. The volleyball team has won its last 24 contests with Saydel as well.

Pierce also noted how supportive the RRC was of Perry's decision to leave the conference. Had the member schools worried about the scheduling issues that would arise without the Bluejays and Jayettes, Pierce said Perry would have stayed in the conference for one more year to ease the transition.

The Heart of Iowa had always been the target for Perry's new home, with the proximity to schools being an attractive selling point. HOIC schools are an average of 53 miles away, with PCM being the furthest away (69 miles) and Greene County the closest (25 miles). Perry's average driving distance to RRC members is 38 miles. 

There are a number of sports that will not directly benefit from the move since only three HOIC schools have soccer teams, and football schedules work within districts instead of conferences. However, Pierce noted that Roland-Story — similarly struggling with roster sizes and success — has already discussed the opportunity to schedule Perry for non-district play.

The wrestling, track & field and cross country teams will also see little change from their current status as most meets involve non-conference opponents. Hosting the conference track meet is one of the only big opportunities, and Pierce already has that eyed in the next couple of years for when the track finishes its renovation.