All signs pointed toward Erie and Prophetstown entering into a full co-op in the near future.
Declining enrollments at both schools meant low numbers on playing fields and courts, and the familiarity of current co-ops
in six sports provided a blueprint.
On November 27, the Prophetstown-Lyndon-Tampico school board, with Erie school board members alongside, voted unanimously to enter into a full co-op for all sports beginning next year.
“It’s been since Day 1 of the co-op since the wrestling program got together,” Erie school board president Chad Miner said. “It’s a numbers game. We knew at some point it was going to happen.”
Erie and Prophetstown currently combine in six sports: wrestling and cross country, since 1997; baseball, softball and track & field, since 1998; and football, since 1999. Now, the schools will combine for boys and girls golf, boys and girls basketball, and volleyball.
Julie Schroeder – a 1989 Prophetstown grad and current girls basketball coach at Erie – learned of the vote while her team played a game against Riverdale. By the time she could look at her phone, she had several text messages from old classmates and other people from both communities telling her the news.
“I was very excited,” Schroeder said. “I’ve been to a lot of meetings in the past 2 years. It’s good to see the decision was made for the kids.”
Liz Green won four state medals in track & field for the Prophets, including a silver as the anchor for the 400 relay team in 1984. The 1986 Prophetstown grad was an assistant for the Prophets’ track and field programs up until the co-op began in 1998, and has been a coach in the E-P program ever since.
Green now coaches both the boys and girls cross country teams in the fall and girls track & field in the spring, and was in favor of the full co-op since the idea was proposed several months ago.
“Both school boards have done a nice job of doing their homework,” Green said. “They’ve looked at what’s worked and what hasn’t.”
Erie and Prophetstown first joined forces on the wrestling mat in 1997-98, and longtime coach Tod McCullough can recall all the doubts from residents of both communities.
“I remember sitting through 3-hour board meetings hearing that this wouldn’t work,” McCullough said. “It’s all about giving the kids a chance to be successful with numbers and competition, and that’s spoken for itself with the success we’ve had together over the years.”
This isn’t the first time the Erie-Prophetstown area has seen a big change in its schools. Lyndon High School closed after the 1968-69 school year, and Tampico High School stayed open until 1996 before its kids were sent to Prophetstown.
“There will always be some for it and others against it,” Green said. “I remember when we absorbed Tampico and what some of the Tampico kids said. They were worried about Prophetstown coaches favoring Prophetstown kids, and Prophetstown kids were worried Tampico coaches would favor Tampico kids. They’re going to do things as fairly as possible.”
“The kids have never been the issue,” McCullough said. “Coaches will look to put the best kids on the field or court or mat no matter which school they’re from. You’d hope to see the commitment and competition increase.”
Both schools have said that there will be no cuts made to any athletic programs. An abundance of numbers shouldn’t be an issue for two school districts that have had rapidly declining enrollments.
By the end of the 1966-67 school year, Erie and Prophetstown had 325 and 235 students in the high school, respectively. Erie started this year with 192 kids, a 40 percent drop over the 50-year period. Prophetstown had 235 students in 1966, while Tampico had 135. Currently, Prophetstown now has 245 kids grades 9-12, a 34 percent drop.
The Prophetstown-Lyndon-Tampico school district has lost 189 students in the last 15 years, and the Prophets didn’t field a fresh-soph girls basketball team last year.
“I saw it coming, and I have no issues whatsoever coaching,” Schroeder said. “I’m in it for the kids. With the numbers both schools have, we need one another to be successful just experience-wise, I’m not concerned about wins and losses. I would hate to see anybody miss out.”
Miner said that with solid numbers in both Erie’s and Prophetstown’s boys basketball programs, next year’s Panthers’ program could field full freshman, JV and varsity rosters. The move also makes sense in the classroom, such as Erie students taking agriculture classes at Prophetstown, and Prophetstown students learning industrial arts at Erie.
“I think the big piece that most people are excited about is more opportunities in athletics and academics,” Miner said. “We’re more efficient working together, and the more we do together, the more we can come together for the kids.”
There are logistics yet to be determined, like who the host school will be in the IHSA’s eyes, and salaries for new and current coaches. Green believes money may present some issues in the transition process.
“Sometimes in basketball if an assistant was from Erie, and the head coach was from Prophetstown, the Erie coach would be getting paid more,” Green said. “But I’m confident that they’re going to work all the details out.”
Current golf, basketball and volleyball coaches will have to go through an application process after the new year if they want to be involved in the co-op. Hires are expected to be made in the early spring, as coaches will want to start planning their summer programs.
The last time Erie and Prophetstown played each other in girls basketball was Jan. 21 2016, a year after the Prophets finished third in Class 1A. That night, a talented Cardinals’ squad won in a 72-38 rout in Prophetstown.
Both girls hoops teams are slated to play at the Lena-Winslow MLK tournament in mid-January, but depending on which pools each are put into, and then how the postseason pairings shake out, they may not face each other ever again.
The boys basketball teams squared off on the final day of the Orion Tip-Off Classic on Nov. 25, with the Cardinals defeating the Prophets 67-49. Both are at the Eric Ottens Shootout in Fulton on Jan, 27, but it is unlikely they’ll face each other there, meaning they might not play again, either.
“It’s a little bittersweet, but the fact of something new is outweighing it,” Schroeder said. “It’ll be sad to lose the Prophets and sad to lose the Cardinals, but it’s well worth it.”