When the Southwest Conference dissolved in 2007 McDonald County had nowhere to turn. Having applied to join other conferences since that time, only to be turned away on multiple occasions, the frustration of being an independent has bugged the school ever since.
Well, not anymore.
After applying to gain entrance to the Big 8 Conference again, one of a handful of tries the school has made to gain entrance since '07, it was confirmed to the Daily News on Tuesday night that by a unanimous 8-0 vote earlier in the day, McDonald County now has a home. They've been accepted into the Big 8.
"We are excited for our kids both academically and athletically," McDonald County athletics director John Whitehead said. "This is a chance for them to receive some recognition for their hard work, rightfully deserved."
The transition won't take place overnight, however. The school will see limited involvement in the Big 8 during the 2013-14 school year. Organizations like speech and debate, academic bowl and so forth is expected to have some participation during the '13-14 school year, with athletics not expected to join the fray until June '14-15.
"It will make less travel for our kids which will help, especially during the winter months," Whitehead said. "The scheduling, this will make it easier after we're actually in. The first year will be a little difficult, but we're playing a pretty full nonconference schedule now, so hopefully that won't make it too much of an adjustment."
While other schools such as Nevada have attempted to enter the conference with McDonald County in the past, this vote was based solely on the application of the latter this time. There will be nine schools in the conference once the move becomes official, so questions about the Big 8 name immediately arise, naturally. However, those involved said it is their understanding that the conference will keep the "Big 8 Conference" moniker intact.
Make no doubt, this is big news for McDonald County. Whitehead credited McDonald County superintendent Mark Stanton and principal Kim Harrell with spearheading the effort to shed the independent tag.
"Credit goes to Kim Harrell and Mark Stanton who have both been working on this for a while to make it happen," Whitehead said. "Those two men receive the most credit for this happening, because they've worked real hard trying to get us in the conference. They've put in a lot of time and effort to see this through."
McDonald County girls basketball coach LaDonna McClain couldn't have been much happier when she learned of the news shortly before her team took the court against Saint Mary's-Colgan on Tuesday.
"Someone came up to me before the game and said something about it," McClain said. "I'm excited. That's huge for us. We've been trying to get in since I've been here. Just from a scheduling standpoint it's huge. We're playing teams in Arkansas and Oklahoma, and we're kind of trapped down in the corner. It's huge. I'm very excited about it."