Multidistrict — Seven West Michigan school districts have decided to come together and form the River Cities Alliance to collaborate and compete not only in athletics, but also in the arts and academics beginning in the fall of 2024.
Leaders of Allendale Public Schools, Cedar Springs Public Schools, Coopersville Area Schools, Greenville Public Schools, Kenowa Hills Public Schools, Lowell Area Schools and Sparta Area Schools saw the opportunity to create a conference that better served the needs of their students.
“All seven districts seeking this change came together for reasons that are both similar and unique to the needs of their school district and community,” said Kenowa Hills Superintendent Jerry Hopkins. “Making this move now with a small local group enhances our ability to value individual athletic and collegiate program interests to better meet the needs of all of our Knights.”
Member districts will compete in athletics while continuing to compete in non-conference play. They will also support other co-curricular experiences through competitions in academic groups such as robotics, math and debate clubs, as well as fine arts programs, for which they plan to host conference band and choir competitions.
“Athletics is important, but we also strive for a well-rounded Sparta experience, and this new alliance will make that more achievable.”
— Sparta Superintendent Joel Stoner
Pete Bush, former superintendent of Sparta Area Schools, has been named a commissioner of the River Cities Alliance. With experience as an athletic director at Cedar Springs and as a basketball and baseball coach at Lowell University High School, his passion for sports education and mentoring began at the school level and progressed through his career. He played baseball and basketball in high school and continued to play baseball as an adult.
“I am excited to be a part of the River Cities Alliance, working alongside educators with a student mindset,” Bush said. “I have had the privilege in my career to work with four of the seven River City Alliance schools, and I am honored to be able to return to help build the alliance to further support competition in both academics and the arts.”
He also previously served as president of the OK Conference and OK Blue Division and became a National Certified Athletic Administrator in 2007.
Opportunities for new traditions
Cedar Springs Superintendent Scott Smith said his district chose to leave the OK Conference and join the Alliance of River Cities because it offers the Red Hawks a chance to have a better rivalry after conference realignment, to compete with more small group of neighboring school districts and reduce travel costs.
“The opportunities to create rivalries that make racing more fun and significantly reducing the time spent traveling to races are two of the most beneficial improvements we see for our students and fans right now,” Smith said.
Kenowa Hills’ Hopkins also said the shorter drive time for students will free up more time to spend with family and friends and rest in preparation for their next race.
In Lowell, Superintendent Nate Fowler agreed that the new union is setting up permanent rivalries with nearby schools. He hopes the relationships will lead to future partnerships that will provide opportunities for all students.
Sparta Superintendent Joel Stoner said the district has struggled to effectively advocate for itself at such a large conference.
“Sparta enjoyed competing with schools in Kent, Ottawa and Muskegon counties,” Stoner said. “However, the voice of Sparta Area Schools was not heard in a group of 48. I cannot advocate for our voiceless students and families.”
Stoner emphasized that inclusion in the new arts and academics conference is a major plus that will help foster new relationships with competing schools.
“Athletics is important, but we also strive for a well-rounded Sparta experience, and this new alliance will make that more achievable,” he said. “We are very excited about this new adventure.”
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