Changes coming to the Northern Indiana Conference

Glenn, Bremen, Jimtown to Leave Sports Conference, Clay to Closes


After the 2023-2024 school year, the Northern Indiana Conference is going to look a lot different.

It appears that conference realignment isn’t just limited to the Big Ten and SEC’s of the world, as the NIC, the conference that most Saint Joe athletic teams compete in, will be losing a total of four schools beginning in the 2024-25 school year. John Glenn, Bremen, and Jimtown will be departing to form a new conference as a whole, while Clay High School is likely to shut its doors entirely. As of this moment, this will leave Saint Joe, Marian, Adams, Washington, Riley, Penn, Elkhart, and New Prairie in the conference – for a total of eight teams down from twelve. 

Why is this exactly happening? The closure of Clay has larger ramifications beyond athletics, so let’s start out with Glenn, Bremen, and Jimtown. There haven’t been many official reasons listed for the move so far, but the first thing noticed is easily geography. All three of these schools, plus the schools they’re joining to form the still-unnamed new conference (Tippecanoe Valley, LaVille, and Knox) are all located in the far southern part of St. Joseph County or aren’t in the county at all. With all the other schools located squarely in the northern parts of the county in or around the South Bend Metropolitan Area (except Elkhart) these six schools unifying instead makes a lot of sense. 

Plus, these schools have a bit more in common with each other than say Bremen would with Penn or Adams. They’re all a bit smaller, and cover much more rural areas than anyone else left in the NIC except New Prairie. And perhaps most notably, these three schools only just joined the NIC in 2015, having all been a part of the old Northern State Conference along with LaVille, Knox, Triton, New Prairie, and Culver High. If you’re playing along, you’ll notice that this new conference is quite similar to the old NSC. Overall, it simply does make a bit of sense for this realignment to occur, it just now opens the question as to what will happen to the NIC?

The other departing school from the conference is Clay High School, which has stirred many a headline in the recent weeks or so. Clay is not removing its athletic teams, rather, it is now likely to close entirely after the 2024-25 school year. Last Monday, the South Bend School Board voted in a tense 4-3 decision to approve a school realignment plan that will close Clay High, Warren elementary, and attempt to construct a high school-level career center. As more charter and private schools have opened in the area, the South Bend Community School Corporation has persistently been faced with declining enrollment at virtually all of it’s schools, with the notable exception of Adams and a slim selection of grade and middle schools. With this, a number of buildings built for much larger student populations than they serve are being dramatically underutilized, and as a result, are cost-ineffective to keep running. The decision to close Clay, a school that has operated under 50% capacity, reflects this.

Of course, there’s been great pushback from the Clay community and greater South Bend community in general. Students lead a walkout Thursday to protest the school board’s decision, and a “Save Clay” campaign has been waged mostly in the northern South Bend area. They argue that the school’s community merging with another will undoubtedly harm students involved, and that the closure will hurt the general North Side of South Bend. Many also have argued the board has lacked transparency through the process, specifically with the Clay community.

With the closure, the Clay Fine Arts magnet program will be moved to Riley High School (and presumably programs like the Summerfly arts program, which is open to all high school students in the area including Saint Joseph students). Of course, this issue goes far beyond sports, as it dramatically affects the lives of hundreds of students and countless other teachers and community members. Yet for the sake of this article, it should be said that Clay’s sports teams will no longer be separate from other South Bend schools, meaning that they too will be leaving a spot in the Northern Indiana Conference. 

With Mishawaka’s 2020 departure and the consolidation of Elkhart Central into Elkhart, the only teams that have stayed in the NIC since current seniors were freshmen are now Penn, Marian, Saint Joe, Adams, Washington, Riley, and New Prairie. It remains to be seen whether the conference will carry on with the new-look eight members, or perhaps still have some changes to follow. And with a potential mascot change perhaps on the way for our own school, there may be even more changes on the way for the conference. The only thing certain is that our own athletes will certainly be there, playing whoever ends up in the conference, ready for action.