BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – Not only will the Fort Madison Bloodhounds move up a class to 4A on the football field, they will also see some unfamiliar opponents in 2021.
The Hounds moved from 3A to 4A in announcements made last fall, but the district lineups released on Friday have Fort Madison holding only Mt. Pleasant and Burlington from last year’s district
This fall the Hounds will also face Iowa City Liberty, Clinton and Class 3A defending state champion North Scott, who also made the jump to 4A.
The Lancers knocked off top-ranked Cedar Rapids Xavier in the semis 17-10 and then rolled Harlan 30-6 in the title game in 2020.
The new district has Fort Madison looking at substantial travel. But FMHS Athletic Director Jeremy Swink said that seems to be the trend across the new state.
“I got to peaking at some of the other districts and some of those people have some serious travel, too. Going to a place like Clinton would seem somewhat normal for this redistricting,” Swink said Saturday.
Head Coach Derek Doherty said his staff had narrowed it down to either going up the river, or going west where Pella and Oskaloosa could have been involved, which would have created close to the same travel times.
“We kind of had it narrowed down to them sending us that way or towards Pella. We were 50/50 on which way they would go,” Doherty said.
“With that travel you hope you don’t have to go North Scott and Clinton in the same year. We have no idea at this point what the home and away will look like.”
He said he hopes, and assumes, the state will take those travel times into consideration.
Fort Madison has had five home games each of the past two years and in normal rotations would then move to four home games and five on the road in a traditional nine-game schedule.
Doherty said he’s hearing the state will use these districts for the next two years and then re-evaluate things in 2023.
Class 4A will have 36 teams with six districts. The top two teams in each district will qualify for the playoff and four at-large bids will be given based on the IHSAA’s Ratings Percentage Index (RPI). That index measures a team’s strength compared to other schools based on strength of schedules.
According to the states’ BEDs documents, which list high school enrollment, Fort Madison has 480 students with Holy Trinity enrollment included in the coop program. That makes the Hounds currently the seventh smallest school in 4A ahead of Oskaloosa (469) Webster City (457) Glenwood (446), Winterset (436), Decorah (431) and Perry (422).
Swink said without HTCs enrollment the Hounds still, in all likelihood, would have landed in the bottom of 4A.
Perry is tied with Keokuk and Carrol, but Perry was pushed up due to an alphabetic tiebreaker leaving Keokuk tied as the largest class 3A school in the state.
But that lower class put Keokuk in a potentially tough district with powerhouse Solon, and Grinnell who beat Fort Madison in the state quarterfinals last year. Washington, Fairfield and West Burlington are also in that district.
Swink and Doherty still see Keokuk and potentially Fairfield as non-district possibilities this year.
“We’re obviously talking with Keokuk and Fairfield, but the main goal is competitive games. That’s what we’re looking for. “Our district was competitive and what we consider our “conference” schools are the types of games we need to be playing in. There are some rivalries there we’ve had for years and years and it’s been a lot of fun,” Doherty said.
Swink said they can have conversations and submit who they would like to have as non district opponents, but ultimately the state makes the decision.
Doherty said the past records can go out the window. Clinton was 0-7 last year, but Doherty said he saw some film of them last year, not knowing that Clinton would be a district opponent this year, and said they have a very athletic quarterback and are improving.
He said Burlington is also improving and buying into the system, while Liberty is a young athletic team in a tough conference and knocked off Iowa City High last year. North Scott lost some production, but will likely reload well.
And Mt. Pleasant has always been a hill for the Hounds.
“Mt. Pleasant is just solid. They’ve been a thorn in our side for years and year and years.”
Central Lee stays in Class 2A and has a very similar district with Mid-Prairie, Davis County and Eddyville-Blakesburg-Fremont and Williamsburg, joining the Hawks, Centerville slips in to round out District 6.