When I entered Sterling High School as a freshman in 1996, the twin cities were coping with a change that many did not like.
The Golden Warriors and the Rock Falls Rockets would no longer play a football game against each other. The Rockets, as I recall, decided it was in their best interest to end the tradition that had turned lopsided in Sterling’s favor in recent years.
Filling the gap in Sterling’s schedule was Chicago Steinmetz, a program in its infancy. I recall coming to the line of scrimmage during one game on offense and having to point out to the Steinmetz player across from me where he was supposed to line up.
Needless to say, the excitement level for that game was pretty low. The results each fall were ugly.
I know I’d rather have played Rock Falls then Steinmetz. There were probably Rock Falls players who felt the same about playing Sterling instead of whatever team the Rockets picked up.
That change was made by people with good intentions.
Thursday, another change hit the Sauk Valley as Dixon was accepted into the Big Northern Conference. Starting in 2014, the Dukes will be in a different conference than the Golden Warriors for the first time since the 1920s.
It’s sad to see that tradition end, and as I sit on my little sports reporting perch, I can’t help but feel a bit conflicted.
For Dixon, the move is logical. Their enrollment is more comparable to the teams in the Big Northern than the Northern Illinois Big 12, and trends suggest their numbers may continue to decline.
The schools in the Big Northern West are also closer on average to Dixon than those in the NIB-12 West. The Dukes could easily form nice geography-based rivalries with Rock Falls, Oregon and Byron.
I can’t blame them one bit for making the move.
The conflict for me comes with Sterling. As I told a reporter from another paper on Thursday, it leaves them out on an island.
The Warriors’ closest conference competitors are Geneseo and Rochelle.
Geneseo has been the major rival for the Warriors. The Leafs, for many years, were kings of the old NCIC Northeast in football. If anyone was going to beat them, it was Sterling.
When asked if the Maples Leafs would consider leaving the NIB-12, possibly for the Western Big 6, Geneseo Athletic Director Travis Mackey said this to the Moline Dispatch.
“It’s early in the stages to be in panic mode,” Mackey said. “[Dixon] has 2 more years [before it leaves]. At the same time, we have to be aggressive to be in the right spot. Right now, we’re going to sit back and gather information.”
That could mean even more change for the Warriors.
Playing games with local rivals is good for fans and good for the kids.
Many Sterling players and fans will miss not having Dixon on their schedules as much. Just as many Dixon kids will miss taking a crack at beating Sterling.
Even when it may seem logical, it doesn’t mean it is easy or good for everyone.