For the last 100 years, Fairfield, Mt. Pleasant and Washington have shared a conference.
The league these institution shared for the first 18 years included Muscatine, Burlington and Ottumwa and was called the Little Six.
Burlington, Fairfield, Mt. Pleasant and Washington were all members of the Little Six until 1958.
Burlington will now re-join a league with Fairfield, Mt. Pleasant and Washington along with current Southeast Conference members Ft. Madison and Keokuk for the 2019 school year.
The process started in July 2017 when Burlington athletic director Zach Shay, principal David Keane and superintendent Pat Cohen began discussing options regarding a change in conference affiliation.
The Mississippi Athletic Conference welcomed Burlington as a member in 1978, which is the year that league was formed.
The Grayhounds had been an independent since 1972.
In 1935, Keokuk and Ft. Madison joined the Little Six, bringing the membership to eight schools. That lasted until the late 1950s.
For the 1958-59 school year, Centerville of the South Central Conference; Fairfield, Ft. Madison, Mt. Pleasant, and Washington of the Little Six Conference; and Davis County formed the Southeast Six Conference.
The Little Six now was just four schools; Burlington, Keokuk, Muscatine and Ottumwa. In the fall of 1960, Bettendorf joins from the Illiowa Conference. Membership increases to five, then six when Davenport Assumption joins in 1964.
In 1969, Bettendorf and Muscatine leave the Little 6 for the Mississippi Valley Conference. Davenport Assumption leaves to help found the Quad Cities Metro Conference. Quincy (Ill.) Catholic joins the Little Six, but membership decreases to 4. In 1972, Keokuk and Ottumwa leave for the Southeast Seven. The Little Six disbands leaving the Grayhounds as an independent until 1978.
For the 1968-69 school year, Oskaloosa joins the Southeast Six from the Central Iowa Conference. Membership increases to seven and the conference name is changed to the Southeast Seven Conference. Keokuk joins in 1972, but Davis County and Centerville leave for the South Central Conference, bringing member schools down to six.
In 1983, Oskaloosa leaves the Southeast Seven for the South Central Conference, but Ottumwa joins after competing as an independent. Membership is still at six.
In 1996, Oskaloosa rejoins the Southeast Seven, leaving the South Central. Membership is now at seven, but briefly.
In 1998, Ottumwa leaves for the Central Iowa Metro League. Oskaloosa leaves for the Little Hawkeye Conference. Membership decreases to five. The conference name is changed to Southeast Conference.
Jim Hofmann played for the Burlington Grayhounds football team that won the Little Six Conference and the mythical state championship in 1951.
“We defeated Fairfield when they were ranked No. 2,” Hofmann said. “Burlington and Ottumwa had a real good rivalry then. The team that lost the game between those two was presented a traveling Dog House after the game.”
Hofmann has also coached BHS football but is now in charge of cross country.
“From a cross country point of view, the new conference will have very little effect,” Hofmann said. “It will not change our schedule, except for the conference meet. We will not have to travel as far. The Southeast Conference has very talented runners, just like the MAC, just not as many. We already compete against teams in the Southeast at the Ft. Madison Relays, so there will be very little difference for us.”
Burlington is now one of the smallest Class 4A schools competing in football and the BHS enrollment is trending downward.
BHS played Ottumwa (lost 32-26), Keokuk (won 31-6) and Ft. Madison (won 31-0) in football last season. The wins were the only victories. The combined score of the other six games was 280-89, an average of 47-15. In 2017, the only BHS win was 27-20 over Ottumwa. Burlington hasn’t won more than three games in a season of football since it went 4-5 in 2010. Its last winning season was 2008 at 7-3.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if we were a Class 3A school in a few years,” Shay said.
The Grayhounds are actually the 43rd largest district in the state making them the fifth smallest competitor in 4A football. It is just one third the size of West Des Moines Valley, which has 2200 students in nine through 11 grades.
In comparison, Burlington has 800 students in the three-grade range, whereas the largest current member in the Southeast Conference is Mt. Pleasant (68th largest in state) with 427. Washington has 398 (72nd), Ft. Madison 400 (71st), Keokuk 384 (78th) and Fairfield 375 (79th). For additional reference, Ottumwa has 933 (36th) and Oskaloosa has 496 (61st).
The Ottumwa Bulldogs and Oskaloosa Indians were both invited to a meeting with Burlington and the current Southeast conference schools to discuss a larger merger.
According to the athletic directors in the conference, Ottumwa is currently in sort of a stalemate, afraid they would have problems scheduling nonconference games if it joined and Oskaloosa declined the invitation altogether.
Fairfield activities director Jeff Courtright listed the positives for the Trojans with Burlington as a conference member:
1. Travel is convenient for teams’ fans and the school district.
2. The move allows Fairfield to fill more dates with the team in closer proximity.
3. The middle schools currently compete in the same conference as Burlington. Ottumwas is in that conference as well.
4. Burlington is currently able to field several levels of competition, including freshmen and junior varsity in all sports.
5. The conference is stronger by adding teams and allows for more flexibility when scheduling Southeast Conference games.
6. It will provide new opportunities in scheduling for some sports.
7. It allows for some sports to have conference tournaments.
BHS boys basketball coach Reginald Shipp listed some of the benefits he sees on playing in the Southeast Conference:
- Being more competitive in all sports.
- Create local rivalries with teams in our conference.
- Less travel time for athletes.
- Increase of instructional time due to shorter travels.
- Helps save and put more resources into our athletic programs with the reduced travel.
- More attendance at events.
- More competitive athletic programs.
- More resources.
- Familiarity with opponents because of same conference as middle schools.
- Being in a 3A conference already when BHS may be a 3A school in the coming future.
Shipp does see some disadvantages to joining the SEC:
- Lower level competition compared to the MAC.
- Scheduling in basketball and baseball.
Fairfield, Mt. Pleasant, Washington conference history
1919 to 1935: The Little 6 Conference consisted of Burlington, Fairfield, Mt. Pleasant, Muscatine, Ottumwa, Washington.
1935 to 1958: The Little 6 Conference consisted of Burlington, Fairfield, Ft. Madison, Keokuk, Mt. Pleasant, Muscatine, Ottumwa, Washington.
1958 to 1968: The Southeast 6 Conference consisted of Centerville, Davis County, Fairfield, Ft. Madison, Mt. Pleasant, Washington.
1968 to 1973: The Southeast 7 Conference consisted of Centerville, Davis County, Fairfield, Ft. Madison, Mt. Pleasant, Oskaloosa, Washington.
1973 to 1983: The Southeast 7 Conference consisted of Fairfield, Ft. Madison, Keokuk, Mt. Pleasant, Oskaloosa, Washington.
1983 to 1996: The Southeast 7 Conference consisted of Fairfield, Ft. Madison, Keokuk, Mt. Pleasant, Ottumwa, Washington.
1996 to 1998: The Southeast 7 Conference consisted of Fairfield, Ft. Madison, Keokuk, Mt. Pleasant, Oskaloosa, Ottumwa, Washington.
1998 to 2019: The Southeast Conference consisted of Fairfield, Ft. Madison, Keokuk, Mt. Pleasant, Washington.
2019 to ?: The Southeast Conference consists of Burlington, Fairfield, Ft. Madison, Keokuk, Mt. Pleasant, Washington.