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In this file photo, Rock Creek fans hold signs in the crowd during the Class 3A state baseball tournament at Tointon Family Stadium in May. Rock Creek will be moving from the Mid-East League to the North Central Kansas League, starting in the fall of 2022 for the middle school and the fall of 2024 for the high school.

In a move expected for months, the Rock Creek school district will be joining a new league in the near future.

After 30 years of competition in the Mid-East League, Rock Creek has started the process of moving to the North Central Kansas League in all athletics and activities for middle school and high school.

In a recent vote involving the athletics directors of the six current NCKL schools — Abilene, Chapman, Clay Center, Concordia, Marysville and Wamego — Rock Creek was unanimously accepted and approved for membership.

Rock Creek Middle School will join the NCKL starting in the fall of 2022. The high school will begin play in the league in the fall of 2024.

The move is motivated by growth. The Rock Creek school district projects itself to be competing in Class 4A in all sports in the coming years; it would be the largest school of that size in the Mid-East League.

Riley County has seesawed between 3A and 2A over the past several years, while Silver Lake, Rossville and St. Marys have remained in 2A. Wabaunsee, which competes in the league in every sport other than football, is a 1A school in football and 2A in other sports.

The Mustangs will be the 10th-largest school in 3A for the 2022 and 2023 seasons and will move up to 4A for all other sports this year. Rock Creek will be the second-smallest school in 4A.

“The Mid-East League has been a really, really strong league for a long time,” Rock Creek athletics and activities director Darwyn Thomlinson told The Mercury in a phone interview Wednesday morning. “I really want to emphasize that. We’ve been pretty happy being a member of the Mid-East League, and we appreciate the relationships that we’ve been a part of here. We’ve been a growing district for quite some time now. We’ve been considering, as we’ve looked at our projected growth, what league would kind of fit us best in terms of where we’re going.”

Thomlinson said that the move is less about upping the quality of competition — as the Mid-East League has thrived on that front — and more about facing schools that can offer the same number of opportunities at all levels.

“One of the things that we run into at the middle school level is that most Mid-East League schools have just three teams (for middle school basketball): a combined B-Team and a 7A and 8A team,” Thomlinson said. “Our school has enough kids on the middle school girls’ side of things to be able to do 7A, 8A, 7B and 8B on a consistent basis. So what we run into is we have a large number of girls who miss out on competition. So one of the things that we’re trying to do is expand opportunities for all of our programs by doing this.”

Wamego and Abilene are 4A in all sports, while Chapman, Clay Center and Concordia will be 3A in football for the 2022 and 2023 seasons and 4A in all other sports this year. Marysville is 3A in both.

The decison to make the move came from Rock Creek superintendent Kevin Logan but Logan told The Mercury Wednesday afternoon that USD 323 board members were kept informed throughout the process.

According to Mid-East League by-laws, schools must give one-year’s notice before leaving the conference.

“Making a move like this from the Mid-East League was a tough decision,” Thomlinson said. “We really appreciate the relationships that we’ve built with Mid-East League teams. We really appreciate the competitiveness that Mid-East League programs have brought to the table. But with our growing district, we need to start matching up with schools that fit our size a little bit better moving forward.”