When the cheers rang out in support of Collins-Maxwell at the Old Settlers Day parade in Maxwell Aug. 5, it took a few minutes for Carter Fricke to find his school spirit.
Collins-Maxwell is going solo in athletics for the first time since 1988, after its sports-sharing agreement with Baxter came to a close at the end of the 2017 baseball and softball seasons. Fricke is entering his senior year of high school, having been involved with CMB his whole life, so when the cheerleaders began to vocally support their new school at Old Settlers Day, he was hesitant to join the choir.
“The (cheerleaders) did some cheers about three times in the parade,” Fricke said. “The first couple times I didn’t cheer along with them.”
But then Fricke decided it was time to let go of the past. He was no longer a Raider. He was now a Spartan.
“The last time I was like alright, gotta move on,” Fricke said. “Then I cheered with them.”
Fricke and the other Collins-Maxwell athletes and coaches face a number of challenges starting up an athletics program from scratch. Especially being a small school.
But there will also be plenty of positives for the Spartans being on their own.
Troy Houge, the CMB softball coach who guided the Raiders to the state tournament two years ago, is taking over as the first Spartan athletic director. He has had to fill coaching positions, choose new uniforms and set up schedules against a whole slate of different opponents as CMB moves from the Heart of Iowa Conference to the Iowa Star Conference.
“We’re getting our coaches in place,” Houge said. “We still need one more coach — the head coach for girls’ basketball — but in everything else we have our coaches in place now so we’re excited about that. That’s my biggest thing. The athletes can’t really function if they don’t have any coaches in place to help them.”
The new uniforms — combining the old black and silver of CMB with royal blue — have been a hit thus far with the athletes.
“Uniforms are coming along,” Houge said. “The kids are excited to have a say in that.”
The scheduling has also gone well, though Houge recently had to make a last-minute change to the football schedule after Collins-Maxwell’s opening opponent — Easton Valley — backed out of the Aug. 18 opener. But the Spartan AD quickly rectified the situation by scheduling Moravia to fill in as the Spartans’ opening opponent at home on Aug. 25.
As far as the Iowa Star Conference, it will take time for Collins-Maxwell to get used to new opposition. Though there is one foe they will most definitely be familiar with — Baxter has also joined the conference.
“I think the next two years will be tough for our athletes,” Collins-Maxwell head cross country and girls’ track coach Jerry Meinerts said. “But I think every year we get down the road, it’ll make it a little bit easier.”
Though it will be tough for kids at both schools to step into each other’s gym for the first time as an opposing team, they each will have the same end goal in mind.
“We’re there to compete,” Mikayla Houge, Troy’s daughter and a standout multi-sport athlete said. “We’re there to win, but in the end they’re still our friends. We won’t hold anything against them.”
Colo-NESCO is another team close in proximity that several Collins-Maxwell athletes faced while at CMB. But every other team will be a fresh face to go up against.
“I’m excited about not having to play Gilbert and Nevada (etc.) being the small school we were,” Fricke said. “I’m excited to play against schools that are more our size and more our level of competition.”
The new conference slate does brings the obstacle of a lot more travel time to away games.
There will be other hurdles Collins-Maxwell must deal with.
The football team is going from 11-man to 8-man football. In its first season, the Iowa High School Athletic Association is preventing Collins-Maxwell from competing in a district and thus having a chance to go to the postseason, since 2017 is not a realignment year for district play.
The track teams must adjust to not having a home track to run on as it had at Baxter. It will be more difficult for all teams to build quality depth.
But there are also more advantages.
Not having to bus kids back and forth from Collins-Maxwell and Baxter means a more efficient practice schedule.
“It’ll be nice because we’ll get to start practice earlier and end practice earlier,” Mikayla Houge said. “So we won’t be getting home as late, which will be nice. More time for homework.”
The small-school environment gives kids who normally wouldn’t go out for an athletic event at a larger school a chance to compete.
“In cross country we have three new guys who wouldn’t go out last year, but we talked them into going out this year,” Fricke said. “We need more people, so they decided to step up.”
It also allows the athletes to grow tighter as a team.
“There are not very many people in our school, so we’re close to all of our friends and we know each other very well,” Mikayla Houge said. “I think that’ll really help with team chemistry this year.”
And it can bring the Collins and Maxwell communities closer together.
“The support we have from the community right now is just phenomenal,” Meinerts said. “Fundraising, coming to pep rallies and just helping out wherever they need to — they’ve just been behind us 100 percent. It’s exciting to see.”
But Troy Houge stresses that the community must do its best to make sure the support goes well beyond the first season of competition.
“We’ve got to make sure this isn’t a one-year deal,” Troy Houge said. “Anytime something’s new, you get tremendous support from people. We want to make sure this is a sustained, long-term support from all of our community and I think it will be.”
“I think we’re going to put products out there that they’re going to want to come watch and see,” Troy Houge said. “With the athletes we have, they’re going to be fun to watch. I think that’ll help us to keep the excitement going here in the future.”
For now, the Spartan AD is just excited to get things off and running.
“Getting our fields ready to go, our new gym set up and everything — all the excitement is there,” Troy Houge said. “For the kids, they want to get out and get after it. Let’s get going — that’s the way I feel as an AD and as a coach. Just go out there and compete — to me that’s where it’s at.”
With the football opener being moved, the first Collins-Maxwell sporting event will be when the cross country team hosts its first home meet Thursday, Aug. 24, at the Center Grove Orchard.
“We’re ready for our first home meet ever,” Meinerts said. “Once the meets start and school starts, I’m just looking forward to all the excitement we’re going to see in the hallways.”
The following day, the football team hosts Moravia for its opener in Maxwell. The volleyball team opens its schedule Monday, Aug. 28, at Ogden, with its home opener in the new gym coming Sept. 7 versus Waterloo Christian.