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Central DeWitt's Drew Kueter looks to pass the ball during the second period of their game at Maquoketa earlier this season. Mississippi Athletic Conference principals voted unanimously Wednesday to accept Central DeWitt as a league member.

The Mississippi Athletic Conference will welcome a new member for the first time in more than three decades.

MAC principals voted 9-0 Wednesday morning to accept Central DeWitt's request to join the conference.

It still is not entirely certain when the Sabers will enter the league. Wamac bylaws state a school must give two years notice before its departure.

The Sabers have filed a request to leave at the end of the 2019-20 school year. If granted, Central DeWitt would enter the MAC the following fall. If the Wamac denies it, the Sabers would join in the fall of 2021.

A couple hours after receiving a phone call Wednesday from MAC officials saying it had been accepted, Central DeWitt activities director Kurt Kreiter was at a Wamac meeting. He said there weren't enough superintendents present to take a vote on the school's request to exit early.

That vote is expected to take place through email in the coming days.

"We've competed in a great conference in the Wamac, and it made this decision very difficult, but logistically it makes a lot of sense," Kreiter said.

"The bottom line is, it is going to allow parents to get to kids' games without traveling long distances, kids can stay in class longer and they'll get home earlier. Those things are going to be really good for us."

Other than a 19-mile trek to rival Maquoketa and nearly 50 miles to Mount Vernon, all of the remaining schools in the Wamac are at least an hour away from DeWitt.

The longest trip in the MAC for the Sabers will be 52 miles to Muscatine.

"The Wamac is one of the best conferences in the eastern half of the state, if not the entire state, but going to South Tama or Benton Community on Tuesday night versus the Quad-Cities is going to have a huge positive impact," Central DeWitt girls basketball coach Chad Specht said.

Burlington is leaving the MAC at the end of the summer to join the Southeast Conference, comprised of Fairfield, Fort Madison, Keokuk, Mount Pleasant and Washington.

Central DeWitt will be the first addition to the MAC since Pleasant Valley became a full-fledged member in 1987.

The MAC will be a nine-team league for one year, possibly two.

According to MAC chairperson Mike Zimmer, the principal at Pleasant Valley, every MAC school has found schedule replacements for volleyball and basketball to fill Burlington's departure in the coming year.

"To have 10 schools again and to flush this out, that's big," Zimmer said. "You're not struggling to find another team to fill out your two games a week in basketball.

"When the (Mississippi Valley Conference) went to a 16-team conference, that became a huge barrier. We can't even touch them because their schedules are full. So you're looking at the Western Big Six, Burlington or even DeWitt."

With the exception of Davenport Assumption, a parochial school, Central DeWitt will be the smallest member of the MAC in enrollment.

"I think initially they'll be very competitive with mid-level MAC teams," Zimmer said. "Just from an enrollment disparity and drawing from a smaller talent pool, it will be a bigger challenge against the schools that are consistently at the top of the MAC across the board in sports.

"But that said, I don't think its unreasonable at all for a smaller school to come in and field a really good basketball team or a good golf or bowling team where you don't need a lot of numbers."

Wrestling coach Matt Ohnemus believes the move can strengthen his program.

"We'll probably go into the state tournament now with a few more losses," he said, "but the benefit of that is, wrestling the best of (Class) 3A is going to give us the opportunity of feeling really good about how we can compete then at the state tournament.

"We seem to typically have talented individuals, but my hope from a wrestling standpoint, it is going to elevate us from 106 pounds to 285. It is going to make us a more complete team, top to bottom.

"I'm not sure how the wins and losses will look, but I feel good going into those gyms and competing. We're not afraid of the competition level."

As part of the agreement with the MAC, Central DeWitt will need to add boys and girls tennis or join a sharing agreement with another MAC school. It has shared tennis with North Scott in the past. It currently has a sharing agreement with Clinton for swimming.

Central DeWitt also will need to shift its boys golf season from spring to fall and play up a classification. The Sabers have won the past two 3A state titles.

"Our (athletic) success will be in large part dependent on how everybody embraces this," Kreiter said. "If the community is slow to embrace this, the transition will take longer. If the community sees it as a different opportunity and wants to get after it, it will probably take a little less time."

Specht believes the Sabers have the resources to make it work.

"I've been in all the MAC gyms. We're prepared from that standpoint," Specht said. "Our weight room is really good, and our facilities are some of the best when it comes to the eastern half of the state.

"There will be a shift with our mindset on small things, but this will be great for parents and the fans. Attendance will be better, so it's a positive change."

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Sports Editor

Prep sports editor, with emphasis on covering the Mississippi Athletic Conference and Iowa area high schools. I've been in sports journalism for 17 years, the last five at the Quad-City Times.