By Jason Goorman
NORTON SHORES – The River Valley Conference, long considered one of the best small school athletic leagues in Michigan, is disbanding at the conclusion of the current spring sports season.
That will leave Western Michigan Christian, a charter member of the River Valley, operating as an independent in 2015-16 and searching for a future conference affiliation.
Wednesday’s announcement from the league comes after Wyoming Tri-Unity Christian and Grand River Prep announced they were leaving the River Valley to join the Alliance League in the fall.
That left only two member schools in the River Valley – WMC and Grand Rapids Covenant Christian.
“After 30 years, there will not be a River Valley Conference,” Grand Rapids Covenant Christian Athletic Director Travis VanBemmel said in a press release. “The league was often called the best small school conference in Michigan. The list of MHSAA champions from the River Valley only confirms that title.”
River Valley officials tried to recruit new schools to keep the conference alive, including Saugatuck and Fennville, but had no luck, according to WMC Athletic Director Josh Glerum.
“This fall, we will be operating independently and seeking to find a league for 2016-17,” Glerum said. “It’s important for our kids to be able to compete in league races. It’s sad for us to lose such a competitive league, but we’re excited about our options for 2016-17.”
The league started in 1985 with charter members Allendale, Grand Rapids Covenant Christian, Grand Rapids Baptist and Western Michigan Christian.
Hopkins and Saugatuck were added to the league shortly after its founding, but ended up joining the O-K Conference in 1994.
Muskegon Catholic joined the conference in 1995 in all sports except for football. Wyoming Tri-Unity Christian joined in 1988 and Hudsonville Freedom Christian came on board shortly after.
The conference maintained six schools until 2011 when Grand Rapids Baptist, which evolved into NorthPointe Christian, left to join the O-K.
In 2013, Hudsonville Freedom Christian left to join the Alliance League and Grand River Prep stepped in to fill in the void.
Muskegon Catholic left in 2014 to join the Lakes 8 Conference.
The conference has had numerous state champion teams in basketball and soccer, particularly from Western Michigan Christian, Wyoming Tri-Unity Christian and Grand Rapids Covenant Christian. In fact, the River Valley has sent a boys soccer team to the state finals in 16 of the last 17 years.
WMC won boys basketball state titles in 1992, 1999, 2008, 2009, and 2010 and boys soccer titles in 1995, 2003, 2004, 2007 and 2010.