NORFOLK — Norfolk High’s days in the GNAC are numbered.
Norfolk, along with Kearney and Lincoln Pius X, officially accepted invitations to join the Heartland Athletic Conference effective in the 2018-19 school year. Norfolk and Kearney are both leaving the Greater Nebraska Athletic Conference, of which Norfolk was a founding member, to join the now 11-team HAC. The HAC is comprised of the six Lincoln schools, Grand Island and Fremont.
Norfolk High Activities Director Ben Ries says their are numerous positives to the move, but it starts with not having to travel to distant schools like Scottsbluff, North Platte and McCook.
“That puts a lot of stress on the finances,” Ries said. “But it also puts stresses on coaches, and players and parents as far as missed school time, missed work time and then just, obviously, paying for all those trips.”
Norfolk will be associated with exclusively Class A schools in the HAC, whereas there were five Class B members in the GNAC. That change would likely help Norfolk in points when attempting to qualify for state tournaments, but Ries says that wasn’t a factor. The school focused which conference had schools with similar offerings and size.
“I think we were looking at it more from the perspective of how do we align ourselves with schools that are similar to us,” Ries said. “As we analyzed that it just made sense for us to put ourselves in the position with schools in the Heartland Conference.”
The three schools applied to join the HAC last year but were denied. Ries says the HAC wanted more time think about how expansion would look in regards to schedules and conference tournaments.
“So I don’t think the conversation was ever dead in the water, I think it was just more of the Heartland want(ing) some more time to think about it,” Ries said.
Ries says despite the conference switch, Norfolk will continue to keep a close relationship with long-time rival Columbus. Ries added he is hopeful the HAC will expand to include all school activities in the conference in addition to just athletics.