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Athletics, arts and academics come together in new regional conference

Seven area schools form River Cities Alliance 

Multi-district — Seven West Michigan school districts have decided to join together and form the River Cities Alliance to collaborate and compete in not only athletics, but also in the arts and academics beginning in fall 2024.

River Cities Alliance Logo

Leaders of Allendale Public Schools, Cedar Springs Public Schools, Coopersville Area Schools, Greenville Public Schools, Kenowa Hills Public Schools, Lowell Area Schools and Sparta Area Schools saw the opportunity to create a conference that better fits the needs of their students.

“All seven districts seeking this change have joined together for reasons that are both similar and unique to the needs of their school district and community,” Kenowa Hills Superintendent Jerry Hopkins said. “Making this move now with a small, local group enhances our ability to value individual athletic and collective program interests to better meet the needs of all of our Knights.”

Member districts will compete in athletics, while continuing to compete in non-conference games. They will also support other co-curricular experiences through competition in academic groups like robotics, math and debate clubs, as well as fine arts programs, for which they plan to have all-conference band and choir competitions.

‘Athletics are important but we are also pursuing a well-rounded experience in Sparta, and this new alliance will make that more achievable.’  

— Sparta Superintendent Joel Stoner
Pete Bush

Pete Bush, former superintendent of Sparta Area Schools, has been appointed commissioner of the River Cities Alliance. With a background as athletic director in Cedar Springs, and coaching varsity basketball and baseball at Lowell High School, his passion for sports education and mentorship began at the school level and progressed through his career. He played baseball and basketball in high school and continued in baseball as an adult. 

“I’m thrilled to be a part of the River Cities Alliance, working alongside educators with a student-first mindset,” Bush said. “I’ve had the privilege over my career to work with four of the seven River City Alliance schools and I’m honored to be able to return to help build the alliance to further support competition in both academics and the arts.” 

He also previously served as president of the OK Conference and OK Blue Division and became a National Certified Athletic Administrator in 2007. 

Opportunities for New Traditions  

Cedar Springs Superintendent Scott Smith said his district opted to leave the OK Conference and join the River Cities Alliance because it offers the Red Hawks a chance to have better rivalries in the wake of conference realignments, compete with a smaller group of neighboring school districts, and cut down on travel costs.

“Opportunities to establish rivalries which make competition more fun, and a significant reduction in time spent traveling to contests, are two of the most beneficial enhancements we see for our students and fans at this time,” Smith said. 

Hopkins, of Kenowa Hills, also said shorter drive times for students will free up more time to spend with family and friends and rest in preparation for their next competition.

In Lowell, Superintendent Nate Fowler agreed the new alliance establishes consistent rivalries with nearby schools. He hopes the relationships will lead to future partnerships that will provide opportunities for all students.

Sparta Superintendent Joel Stoner said the district struggled to effectively advocate for itself in such a large conference.

“Sparta has enjoyed competing with the schools within Kent, Ottawa and Muskegon counties,” Stoner said. “However, the voice of Sparta Area Schools was not being heard in a group of 48. I cannot advocate for our students and families without a voice.”

Stoner stressed that the new conference’s inclusion of arts and academics is a major plus that will help foster new relationships with rival schools.

“Athletics are important but we are also pursuing a well-rounded experience in Sparta, and this new alliance will make that more achievable,” he said. “We are very excited for this new adventure.”

SNN Reporter Riley Kelley contributed to this article.

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Alexis Stark
Alexis Stark
Alexis Stark is a reporter covering Byron Center, Caledonia, Godfrey-Lee, Kenowa Hills and Thornapple Kellogg. She grew up in metro Detroit and her journalism journey brought her west to Grand Rapids via Michigan State University where she covered features and campus news for The State News. She also co-authored three 100-question guides to increase understanding and awareness of various human identities, through the MSU School of Journalism. Following graduation, she worked as a beat reporter for The Ann Arbor News, covering stories on education, community, prison arts and poetry, before finding her calling in education reporting and landing at SNN. Alexis is also the author of a poetry chapbook, “Learning to Sleep in the Middle of the Bed.”


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