As bus rides go, there are no short trips in the Hoosier Conference for Rensselaer, ranging from a 45-minute hike to Twin Lakes to a two-hour trek to Tipton.
But you won't hear Bombers coach Chris Meeks complaining.
"It's worth it, having such a tradition-rich school in the conference," Meeks said of Tipton. "I love the schools and what they stand for, along with the great competition. All seven schools travel and support their teams very well. As the head football coach of Rensselaer, I have no desire to compete in a different conference."
Classes A through 5A will hold their semistates this weekend -- the 6A state final is already set -- and the Hoosier Conference still has three teams left in the dance.
"It's the ultimate for our conference," said Tipton coach Aaron Tolle, whose Blue Devils host Rensselaer on Friday. "I don't know of a better small-school conference in the state as far as football is concerned."
While the Bombers and Blue Devils knock heads, West Lafayette will be in the region facing Andrean in Class 3A. The Red Devils won state in 2009 and have advanced to at least the regional four of the last five years. Tipton has won four sectionals in a row. Lafayette Central Catholic captured four straight Class A state titles before moving up this year to 2A, where it was edged 28-24 by Tipton in the sectional. Rensselaer has reached four regionals and three semistates under Meeks dating back to 2008.
"There is always something at stake," Tolle said. "It simply helps the kids. You have to coach hard all year. There are no weeks off. You have to prepare every single week."
Sheridan was a multiple Class A state champion as a member of the Hoosier Conference. Its departure after 2010 actually resulted in an upgrade with Central Catholic joining.
"We believe the conference gets us ready for the tournament," Meeks said. "Ever since we got into the Hoosier Conference (15 years ago), our playoff record has vastly improved. We may not have the best record at the end of the regular season, but our kids are battle-tested from competing in the Hoosier. We have three non-conference schools to start the season, then we finish with all conference games. There are some big-time rivalries beginning to develop. It's a very tough grind."
That showed last year when a young 6-5 Bombers squad pushed Andrean to the limit in the sectional.
"I don't think you can replace it," said Tolle, whose non-conference schedule included Sheridan and Hamilton Heights. "When you get down to it, teams who don't play a schedule like that, it's extremely hard to win a football sectional. In any other sport, you have to be focused for five, six days. In football, it's 21 days, three straight weeks. If you aren't (focused), that's when you get yourself upset. (The schedule) sets you up really well to make a tournament run."
While Central Catholic and West Lafayette have raised the hardware in Indianapolis, Rensselaer is still vying for its first trip to Indianapolis. It fell in the semistate in 2009 and 2010 to Fort Wayne Luers, which is now in 3A. Tipton, which won state in 1994 under Tolle's dad Mike, has had its last three seasons ended by Luers.
Somebody's going to change their luck Friday.
"It's a great rivalry as it is," Tolle said. "I think the great thing this time is we know a Hoosier Conference team will be in the state finals for sure."