By Jim Henry
Globe Sports Editor
The light at the end of the tunnel for McDonald County High School is that its days as an independent will end.
The Big 8 Conference accepted McDonald County’s application to join the league by a unanimous vote on Tuesday.
“The principals (the voting body, according to league by-laws) voted Tuesday with the blessing of all the superintendents and school boards,” Carl Junction superintendent Phil Cook said. “All the superintendents and districts agreed it would be a good fit.”
“McDonald County borders two of our current districts,” Carl Junction principal and Big 8 president David Pyle said in a release. “And the majority of our schools already compete with them in a variety of sports and activities.”
“Because of location, the Big 8 is the best fit for us,” McDonald County athletics director John Whitehead said. “We’re tucked down here by ourselves as an independent. The only avenue we really tried to find a conference was the Big 8.
“I think it’s just a result of a lot of hard work by Dr. (Mark) Stanton (McDonald County superintendent) and Mr. (Kim) Harrell (MCHS principal). They worked hard with the Big 8 schools to try to reach some kind of understanding where we could be a part of that conference.”
McDonald County and Nevada have applied for conference membership before but were turned down. This time, only one school applied.
“It always seemed like before it was a package deal, Nevada and McDonald County,” Cook said. “There were some real concerns with travel to Nevada for some of the districts. It has been a big issue.
“One thing the MSHSAA board asked us to do was look at the districts individually and not as a package. That’s what the conference did. McDonald County applied again to the conference, sent letters to all the superintendents. We discussed it earlier this fall, talked to our principals and ADs and school boards. There were no conference schools that dissented. Everybody thought it would be a good fit.”
McDonald County becomes a voting member of the Big 8 in the next school year and will be eligible to compete in non-sports activities — art contests, speech, debate, academic bowls, etc.
“That is something the Southwest Conference did not offer,” Harrell said in a release. “We are excited to be a part of the Big 8, not just for our athletes but also for our entire student body.”
McDonald County joins the Big 8 sports scene for the 2014-15 school year when a new two-year cycle of football schedules starts.
“I know a lot of teachers are excited and the coaches are excited,” Whitehead said. “Our seniors are a little disappointed, but our underclassmen know by the time they are seniors, they can compete for conference championships and gain recognition with all-conference awards.”
The Big 8 gives the Mustangs and their fans a friendlier schedule of road games.
“We won’t have to travel so far,” Whitehead said. “We won’t have to make trips to Springfield or play out-of-state games.”
“McDonald County has no other (conference) options,” Cook said. “They have Arkansas as a south boundary and Oklahoma as a west boundary. Nevada does have some options to go north and east.”