LASALLE – Dixon, Sterling and five other schools said so long Monday morning to the North Central Illinois Conference.
The Northern Illinois Big 12 Conference made its official debut in a classroom at LaSalle-Peru High School. The new league features the six schools from the NCIC Reagan division, new NCIC addition Morris, and five schools leaving the three-year-old Western Sun Conference.
“I feel really good about this,” said Jerry Binder, human resources director at Sterling High School. “This conference has the potential to be together for a really long time.”
The NCIC had been the oldest continuous conference in Illinois, with the same 12 teams comprising the league from 1964 to 2006. Since then, Rochelle and Kewanee have left, with Morris and Illinois Valley Central replacing them.
The NCIC name will remain with the five schools currently in the NCIC Lincoln division: Rock Falls, Hall, IVC, Mendota and Princeton, as well as future addition St. Bede.
“It’s kind of sad that we’re leaving the NCIC,” Sterling activities director Nathan DeLany said. “But if you look around, DeKalb was an original NCIC member. Rochelle has a long history with the NCIC. I think getting those teams back together is one of the neater things about this process.”
The Northern Illinois Big 12, like the recent edition of the NCIC, will be split into two six-team divisions. Dixon, Geneseo, LaSalle-Peru, Ottawa, Sterling and Streator will be in the West division, with DeKalb, Kaneland, Morris, Rochelle, Sycamore and Yorkville in the East.
Most team sports will feature a champion in each division. Wrestling, cross country, golf, and track and field will see the return of 12-team conference tournaments.
“It almost makes too much sense,” Dixon principal Mike Grady said. “We have the familiarity with the NCIC Reagan teams, and some of the facilities and schools on the east side are just outstanding. It’s an exciting day for everybody.”
The 12 schools joined forces because of enrollment and competitive disparities in their current conferences, as well as additional educational opportunities the new partnership should provide.
“These schools all share the same interests and the same issues,” Binder said. “We’re going to see more music festivals, art festivals, leadership conferences – things that we couldn’t necessarily do before.”
Yorkville athletic director Seth Schoonover will serve as the conference’s first president. The conference name was decided by a vote among representatives from the member schools, with the winner prevailing over an original list of about a dozen possibilities and a final vote over the “Great Northern Conference”.
The new league will begin play in the 2010-11 school year, with the schools playing in their current conferences in 2009-10.
“We’ve signed a constitution, and we’ll be developing bylaws in the fall,” Schoonover said. “We looked at every possible scenario. This is the best way to do it to make it work for everybody.”
Sterling’s representatives said breaking the NCIC’s tradition is the only negative aspect of the new conference. Grady has heard from concerned people in Dixon who wonder how the Dukes and Duchesses will fare competitively in the new league.
“We’re going to look at it as a challenge and an opportunity,” Grady said. “Until we actually start playing, it’s all speculation anyway.”
The new deal
• Dixon (2009 enrollment 969)
• Geneseo (914)
• LaSalle-Peru (1,279)
• Ottawa (1,602)
• Sterling (1,033)
• Streator (1,030)
• DeKalb (1,710)
• Kaneland (1,140)
• Morris (1,074)
• Rochelle (1,116)
• Sycamore (1,162)
• Yorkville (1,295)
Baseball: Teams will play 3-game series with division opponents, with crossover quad games Saturday
Basketball: 10-game double-round robin divisional schedule, 4 crossover games
Football: Round robin 5-game divisional schedule, with 2 crossover games Weeks 3 and 4
Softball: 2-game series within division, crossover quad games Saturday
Conference tournaments (all 12 teams): Cross country, golf, track & field, wrestling
Four sports (girls soccer, boys tennis, boys & girls bowling) will act as one combined conference. Others will act as 2 divisions with 2 conference champions.
FYI: Yorkville AD Seth Schoonover is first conference president.