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story.lead_photo.caption Jared Lootens of Blair Oaks runs with the ball during a Tri-County Conference game last month against Warsaw at the Falcon Athletic Complex in Wardsville. Warsaw recently announced plans to leave the Tri-County after the 2017-18 school year. Photo by Annie Rice / News Tribune.

The days of Warsaw being a member of the Tri-County Conference are numbered.

Beginning the 2018-19 school year, Warsaw will leave the Tri-County to become part of the newly formed Ozark Highlands Conference.

Joining Warsaw in the conference are Buffalo, Butler, El Dorado Springs and Sherwood. Cole Camp will also be a football-only member.

"It's probably something that's been an idea for a long time," Warsaw athletic director Billy Daleske said. "It really just kind of came together since the start of school. In late August or first part of September, everybody got serious and wanted to sit down and come up with something.

"It's been an idea for a long time, but it really came to fruition pretty quick."

The move was made official Oct. 17 at Warsaw's school board meeting. Board members voted 6-0 to accept Warsaw's invitation to join the Ozark Highlands Conference.

Warsaw will continue to be a member of the Tri-County through the end of the 2017-18 school year.

"One of the main benefits we look at is travel," Daleske said of changing conferences. "It's going to be closer. Southern Boone is a long stretch for us, and so is Blair Oaks and so is Hallsville. Travel was a big factor."

Warsaw is located the farthest west of all Tri-County schools, making for some lengthy road trips to play conference games. The longest drive is to Hallsville, a 114-mile trip, while to nearest conference foe is Versailles, a 41-mile drive.

In its new conference, Warsaw will be more centrally located. All five members are located within 60 miles of the city.

Enrollment size also played a factor in changing conferences.

According to the member school enrollment numbers posted by the Missouri State High School Activities Association earlier this year, Warsaw had the third-smallest enrollment of Tri-County schools with 388 students. Only Versailles (384) and Hallsville (377) have smaller enrollments. Eldon has the most students with 605.

In the Ozark Highlands Conference, Warsaw will have the second-highest enrollment, trailing only Buffalo with 458 students.

"El Dorado Springs and Butler are going to be really comparable to us, and nobody really stands out as having 200 or 300 (students) above you," Daleske said. "We felt like it would be a better fit."

Warsaw has also struggled on the athletic field lately in the Tri-County. This fall, the football, softball and volleyball teams finished last in conference play and the cross country teams finished near the bottom of the team standings at last month's conference meet.

"We are hoping we can be a little bit more competitive in it," Daleske said of the new conference. " We haven't been very competitive in the Tri-County the last few years. We're excited and we're ready to take a step forward.

"We enjoyed our time in the Tri-County. I played in it back when I was in high school. It's kind of been the only thing I've known."

Daleske added there is potential to add more members to the Ozark Highlands Conference in the future.

"We came together with the idea of growth," Daleske said. "We definitely needed to get it off the ground so anyone who would be interested had something to look at. Instead of it being an idea, we wanted it to be, 'This is it, this is the conference.'"

Both Butler and Sherwood are currently in the Crossroads Conference, Buffalo is a member of the Central Ozarks Conference-Small Division and El Dorado Springs is an independent. Cole Camp will continue to be a member of the Kaysinger Conference in all sports except football.

The superintendents, principals and athletic directors of the six schools in the new conference will meet today. Daleske said it will be an organizational meeting to set new athletic schedules starting in 2018-19, as well as putting together bylaws for the new conference.

Meanwhile, members of the Tri-County are in discussion trying to find a school to take Warsaw's place.

The athletic directors held a meeting last Wednesday and superintendents will hold a meeting Thursday to have further discussions on adding to the conference.

At the athletic directors meeting, Blair Oaks athletic director Corey Felten said they came up with suggestions for schools to take into consideration to join the Tri-County, taking into account the three A's: athletics, activities and academics.

"Who's going to be a good fit for us and help propel us forward with our academics? Band, music, all of those are pretty big within the conference as well," Felten said. "We're looking for those schools that we knew something about within our radius that would fit that mold pretty well."

Felten said one of the options the Tri-County may try is to send out a blanket invitation to a number of schools in the area to gauge their interest.

"We would like to have something (in place) no later than March," Felten said.

This will mark the first shift of members in the Tri-County since Hallsville and Southern Boone joined in the 2012-13 school year.