By Jon Gremmels
Herald Sports Editor
Lee Camp, Mike Miller and Kevin Bowman are taking a positive approach to the new challenges that await their teams in Iowa high school district football.
Camp's Clinton River Kings were placed in one of two five-team districts in Class 4A after the decision by three parochial schools to play in Class 4A ended the conference setup that 4A teams in the eastern part of the state have played under for years. And, with Davenport Assumption, Cedar Rapids Xavier and Dubuque Wahlert dropping to Class 3A, the current 3A teams from the area — Central DeWitt, coached by Miller, and Maquoketa, coached by Bowman — were affected, too.
"The best thing we can do is get excited," Camp said Friday. "This is a new chapter for Clinton High School football."
The River Kings, one of seven teams to qualify for the 4A playoffs from the Mississippi Athletic Conference last fall, were put in District 8 with MAC members Bettendorf, Davenport West and North Scott, along with Dubuque Senior of the Mississippi Valley Conference.
"Our travel isn't horrible, and it's exciting to see Senior," Camp said. "I think the state worked hard to group the teams in tiers. They tried to have the athletic directors (give an idea of) what their teams would be like the next two years."
He also liked that the district games will be played during weeks 5-9 of the season.
"You're playing district games when you should be playing your best football," he said.
The odds of making it to the playoffs also are improved for Clinton and the other teams from districts 7 and 8. Because there now will be only 46 4A teams, the Iowa High School Athletic Association created six six-team districts and two five-team districts. The top four teams from each will qualify for the 32-team playoffs.
During the district season, the odd teams out from the two five-team districts will face each other in a crossover game. Clinton, and every other 4A school, also will play four non-district games during the first month of the season.
Camp said the process for determining non-district games involved having school athletic directors submit a list to the IHSAA ranking six schools they would like play.
"If we would put a team number one and they do, too, there's a good chance the teams would play," Camp said.
He said that Clinton had had talks with Marion Linn-Mar, Pleasant Valley, Davenport Central and Davenport North about playing non-district games.
While Clinton's road to the playoffs might have gotten easier, Miller and Bowman couldn't be blamed if they had a negative reaction to the redistricting. After all, two of the former Class 4A teams that are dropping down to 3A — Wahlert and two-time Class 3A state runner-up Xavier — got placed in their seven-team district that includes six teams that advanced to the playoffs last season.
But, both coaches say it's just another challenge their teams must face.
"My cellphone was lighting up yesterday, and several of the comments were pertaining that we are in the toughest district in 3A," Bowman said. "We cannot control the state's districting, so we will take the bull by the horn and get after it. I look forward to the challenge of competing in this district for the next two years."
Miller said: "Certainly a competitive district. May have an argument that it may be more competitive than some 4A districts. I believe six out of the seven teams in the district made the playoffs last year."
Wahlert was the only one that didn't advance last year, and it also is the only school that hasn't made at least five playoff appearances since 2000 — it has three. In addition, Solon has won five state titles and finished second three times since 2000, Xavier has a title (2006) along with the two second-place finishes during that span and Western Dubuque was the 2001 state champion.
Miller and Bowman said their players were up to the challenge they will face.
"Not a doubt it will be very competitive every week, although our kids possess a good work ethic," Miller said.
"We know that all of the schools in our district qualified for post season last year with the exception of Wahlert," Bowman said. "I also know that the other schools in our district have long been established as solid programs with each team winning a state championship in football. We have had some success in the past five years as playoff qualifiers and a quarterfinal appearance in 2011, and we need to build upon that."
Miller stressed, though, that the challenge wasn't just the stronger schedule.
"There is a heightened awareness of the importance of physical conditioning to be able to handle the demands these games will be putting on our kids' body every week," he said.
But, he also sees the challenge as an opportunity to improve his program.
"Also, I think if you look at it from a numbers, or participation perspective, we are getting 60-70 kids to participate in our program whereas Xavier is getting 85-100," Miller said. "I think we need to look at our approach and grow interest in our program. We understand the challenge ahead and are looking forward to the opportunity in the fall."