The Chester Yellow Jackets are leaving the River-to-River Conference Mississippi Division after 10 years to join a conference of smaller, more local schools.
On Thursday, the Chester Unit District 139 school board unanimously voted to accept the offer from the Cahokia Athletic Conference to join their ranks. With Chester the Cahokia will have 18 teams, including Randolph County schools Steeleville, Red Bud and Sparta.
The earliest the conference switch could happen is the 2021-22 school year; the latest would be the 2022-23 year. The Black Diamond Conference requires a two-year notice when a school leaves so it has adequate time to find a replacement school to join; however, if that happens within a year then Chester could be released to join the Cahokia in fall 2021.
"We are excited to join the Cahokia," said Chester High School Athletic Director Jeremy Blechle. "Only time will tell when the actual move can take place," he added.
Chester varsity football coach Billy Belton is enthusiastic.
"It is going to be great getting to re-establish rivalries with Sparta and Red Bud," he said. Chester also can choose several nonconference competitors each year, and Belton said CHS may be able to return to competing with Du Quoin and Pinckneyville.
Blechle said the renewed rivalries are exciting.
"I look forward to increased ticket sales too with the rivalry games that can be restarted with teams like Sparta and Red Bud," he added. "All around it will be a great move for our players, coaches and fans!"
Joining Cahokia will cut Chester's overall travel mileage roughly in half, according to basketball Coach Doug McDonald. Currently the Yellow Jacket teams travel an estimated 1,400 miles a year.
Blechle said that the extreme travel involved in the BDC is one of its biggest drawbacks.
"Time, money, stress and fatigue on the student-athletes is also huge," he said, adding for some games kids have to leave school while classes are still going on. "Instead of traveling 2½ hours for many games, we will now travel 20-30 minutes to Red Bud and Sparta and our farthest games will be about an hour."
The 13 current teams in the Cahokia Conference are Breese Central, Carlyle, Columbia, Dupo, Freeburg, Lebanon, Marissa-Coulterville, New Athens, Red Bud, Salem, Steeleville, Valmeyer and Wesclin.
The five teams that were invited to join the conference are Chester, East Alton-Wood River, Okawville, Roxanna and Sparta. All have accepted.
Roxanna will leave the South Central Conference; East Alton-Wood River will leave the Prairie State Conference and Sparta will leave the River-to-River Conference, Mississippi Division. Before joining Cahokia, Okawville has been independent.