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Conference realignment talk resurfaces again

  • Several area school officials have been discussing a proposed eight-school conference that would take teams from the SIRR Mississippi Division, Black Diamond Conference and the Cahokia Conference's Mississippi Division.

    Several area school officials have been discussing a proposed eight-school conference that would take teams from the SIRR Mississippi Division, Black Diamond Conference and the Cahokia Conference's Mississippi Division.
    Pete Spitler/Photo Illustration

By Pete Spitler
Posted on 2/15/2017, 12:09 PM

Conference realignment talk has apparently come back to the forefront, as officials from several regional school districts are reportedly discussing forming a new high school athletic conference.

Multiple sources have told the Herald Tribune what is being talked about is Southern Illinois River-to-River Mississippi Division members Sparta, Nashville, Pinckneyville and Du Quoin combining with Cahokia Conference Mississippi Division members Red Bud, Wesclin and Carlyle and the Black Diamond Conference"s Chester to make up the yet unnamed conference.

The new conference would involve all sports, not just football.

"It"s something that I was alerted to a week ago that there were some people who were talking about it," Anna-Jonesboro High School Principal Brett Deterding, who is also president of the SIRR, told the Herald Tribune last Thursday. "I know the Cahokia Conference had an (athletic director) meeting and it was a topic that was discussed."

Steeleville Athletic Director Bryce Bainter, whose Cahokia Conference Kaskaskia Division school would not be directly affected by the realignment proposal, confirmed the topic was talked about at the conference"s monthly athletic directors meeting last week.

"The realignment talk that went on in our AD meeting was mainly between the big-school side," Bainter said, referring to the Mississippi Division. "I think a couple proposals have been brought to some ADs kinda out of the blue and they really didn"t know.

"I don"t think anything"s been done, I think it"s all kind of talk, but I think a few schools were upset they weren"t told about it."

Deterding said the topic was brought up by another school at the SIRR"s conference meeting in November. He classified the seriousness of the reported discussions as "more than just two people over coffee or whatever else discussing it."

"It was brought up by one of the schools, who had maybe some inside information, that there were some discussions or meetings going on," Deterding said.

Deterding added that the SIRR passed a new policy bylaw at its November meeting that states schools wishing to leave the conference have to submit a letter of intent by April.

"At this time, I haven"t heard anything," he said.

It was about this time last year that the Chester District 139 Board of Education - concerned with the long travel distances and declining amount of lower-level conference games in the Black Diamond Conference - ultimately turned down an offer to join the Cahokia Conference after being thwarted in an attempt to rejoin the Southern Illinois River-to-River.

The SIRR"s invitation stated Red Bud had to come with Chester for the change to work, as the conference would not accept one without the other. Red Bud eventually decided to remain in the Cahokia Conference.

The Cahokia Conference later approved a request by Salem to join the conference, as well as a request from Red Bud to move from the Mississippi Division to the Kaskaskia Division.

Both those actions take effect beginning with the 2017-18 school year.

If it came to fruition, the proposal would conceivably put the three Randolph County schools being discussed - Red Bud, Sparta and Chester - under the same conference banner and restore the longtime football rivalry between the Yellow Jackets and Bulldogs on a permanent basis.

School enrollment-wise, the numbers make sense. Pinckneyville (423) would be the largest, with Wesclin (397), Nashville (386), Du Quoin (377), Red Bud (371), Sparta (359), Carlyle (358) and Chester (294).

Chester"s number is misleading because IHSA"s enrollments are all representative of the previous school year. Chester High School welcomed its largest freshman class (97 students) in several years this academic year and this fall"s reflected enrollment is expected to be in the 300s.

In an emailed response to a Herald Tribune inquiry seeking comment, Chester District 139 Superintendent Rick Goodman acknowledged he had heard the rumors too.

"I've made it clear to my administrative team that we will not be involved in any conversations concerning a new conference at this time unless directed by the school board to do so," he wrote.

Chester Board of Education meeting transcripts from last year - acquired as a result of the Herald Tribune"s Open Meetings Act inquiry into the board"s improper executive session discussions - indicated that the BDC already had a replacement in mind in Flora if the Yellow Jackets chose to leave the conference.

But what would theoretically happen to the remaining schools in the SIRR Mississippi (Anna-Jonesboro and Carterville) and the Cahokia Conference Mississippi Division (Columbia, Breese Central, Freeburg and Salem) is unclear. Anna-Jonesboro is believed to have been left out of the proposed conference mainly due to geography.

Road trips to Wesclin (57 miles at 1 hour, 7 minutes) and Carlyle (66 miles at 1 hour, 17 minutes) would be the longest conference bus drives for Chester under the proposal.

In comparison, the Yellow Jackets" current longest drives, one-way, for football are to Fairfield (115 miles at 2 hours and 2 minutes) and BDC newcomer Edwards County (132 miles at 2 hours and 20 minutes).