CEDAR LAKE -- The Northwest Crossroads Conference is in serious trouble. Period.
One the of the Region's best leagues is filled with great schools and student athletes. But there is a major problem for this successful collection.
With the departure of Griffith in June, there are only six schools left in the NCC.
That's like a guitar player with four fingers. Sorry, Phil Keaggy.
This can go on for a year or two. But not much longer.
Six-team high school conferences are similar to honest politicians, they don't exist for very long.
So who is the best candidate to fill in the hole in the NCC? Let me answer that question with another one.
How much fun would a Hanover Central-Lowell football game be?
OK, not today. But a few years down the road, I think it's not only doable but probable.
It will happen.
Hanover has dominated most sports in its four years in the Greater South Shore Conference. League championships and a multitude of all-conference certificates are nice. But they don't help the Wildcats' programs in the postseason, when they are playing schools their own size.
Hanover had the biggest enrollment in the GSSC until Griffith joined. Griffith has 800 students, Hanover 680, Calumet 664, Wheeler 553, Bishop Noll 528, Boone Grove 499, River Forest 439, Whiting 434, Lake Station 381 and South Central 303, among football-playing schools.
The NCC is bigger and tougher. Munster has 1,510 students, Hobart 1,265, Lowell 1,197, Highland 1,117, Kankakee Valley 1,083 and Andrean 492.
The math doesn't look good. But here are some facts.
Hanover's volleyball, girls basketball, softball, baseball, track and cross country programs have dominated the GSSC for years and these same programs have competed well with the NCC teams in recent years.
"It all depends if we keep growing like we have been," first-year Hanover athletic director Ben Bachmann said. "If we keep getting 100 new kids every year that changes things in the future."
Bachmann spent three years at Portage and understood how important commonality among conference schools. It doesn't mean every sport has to be competitive every year. But blowouts week after week are no good either.
Next school year, Bachmann said, the fifth graders in Hanover's district will attend the middle school because the elementary schools are at capacity. This has to be good news for NCC coaches and administrators.
"We have new neighborhoods going up here and there," Bachmann said, pointing to the east and west.
It's hard to ask a football coach after a 40-26 loss to Whiting about the future.
Hanover Central coach Pete Koulianos and his staff have done a great, remarkable job building a program that is only four years old. Yes, losing to the Oilers was tough.
But a year ago Hanover beat the defending state finalists in a shutout.
Koulianos did see all the younger members of the Hanover Jr. Wildcats Football and Cheer introduced before the game. There were a lot of them and they walked out in front of an excited crowd that is falling in love with football.
Despite the loss, Koulianos has enough vision to see the future.
"Our future is very bright here," he said. "We've worked hard and we've made progress. We lost some key guys from last year's team and we're taking the steps we need to.
"In the next five or six years I believe we'll be one of the top teams in the Region."
He didn't mention changing conferences. He, nor anyone else, has to. The NCC is desperate for at least one school to join them very soon. Hanover is, without question, the best fit for the future. And when opportunity knocks, sometimes you have to walk through the door a little earlier than you'd like.
It's not today. But it is coming. Period.
Who wouldn't want to see a Lowell-Hanover Central football game?