Still 2 years away from the full implementation of the district football system, the IHSA on Wednesday released mock-ups of what those districts might look like.
The mock districts are all but certain to not be identical to what ends up taking shape in the fall of 2021, but do give fans, players and coaches an idea of what district play might look like.
The 549 teams playing 11-man football were divided into eight classes, as they are for the postseason now, and then divided into eight districts of either eight or nine teams. Those districts will determine a team’s regular-season schedule for the 2021 season, with room for one or two nondistrict games each year.
The mock districts for Class 5A has Sterling in a district with Freeport, Geneseo, Joliet Catholic, Morris, Rochelle, Boylan and Streator. The Golden Warriors faced Rochelle and Geneseo in NIB-12 play in 2018, and beat Boylan in the Class 5A quarterfinal last November on a walk-off field goal by Eric Davila. The district also pits the Warriors against defending Class 5A champion Joliet Catholic.
“There’s some heavy hitters with JCA and Morris and Boylan,” Sterling coach Jon Schlemmer said. “It’s kind of a grinder in there, but I think our kids have done a great job of getting our program up to that level.”
With additional Chicago Public League schools eligible for the district system – most of them slotted into Class 4A and 5A – many of the teams that would have been in Class 5A in recent years would be bumped up to Class 6A. In the Class 5A playoff field in 2018, Sterling’s enrollment of 1,044 put the Warriors in the middle of the pack, the 16th largest of the 32 schools.
In Class 4A, the mock districts have Dixon in North District B with four other teams that made the playoffs last year: Elgin St. Edward, Genoa-Kingston, Marengo and Stillman Valley.
The Dukes and Rock Falls would also preserve their rivalry, as well as facing Big Northern foe Rockford Lutheran. Kewanee and Harvard are also part of one of the state’s 37 nine-team districts.
“I was a little taken aback when I saw the 4A breakdown, because it’s different from what the projection was when they originally proposed the districts,” Dixon coach Dave Smith said. “Neverthless, I know why they’re looking at this – because of what’s happening with many conferences with realignment and shifting teams – but I don’t agree with it.
“I think schools will be traveling a lot more, and you’re losing that rivalry atmosphere that you get with conferences, knowing who you’re playing every year and developing those battles year in and year out. That’s what’s great about conferences, that’s what I love about football, and there’s talk of multiple proposals to go back to where we were before. We’ll see what happens.”
In Class 3A, Oregon would be in North District B with Byron, Chicago Dyett, IC Catholic, Lisle, Pecatonica, North Boone, Westmont and Winnebago. Erie-Prophetstown would be in North District D with Monmouth-Roseville, ROWVA, St. Bede, Princeton, Alleman, Sherrard, Hall and River Valley.
Class 2A puts together a North District A of Amboy, Eastland-Pearl City, Bureau Valley, West Carroll, Newman, Rockridge, Riverdale, Orion and Mercer County.
The Comets would still have Three Rivers Rock foes Bureau Valley, Riverdale, Rockridge and Orion on the schedule, as well as former division rival Amboy.
“Rockridge and Orion have been pretty big rivalries,” Newman coach Brandon Kreczmer said. “I think that was a lot of coaches’ concerns, that they would lose a lot of those rivalry games. We lose Morrison and some of those schools, but a lot of those rivalry games would be intact, and maybe we start some new ones.”
One of those new rivals would be the Wildcatz. The last time they met, Newman beat EPC 35-12 in the second round of the 2013 playoffs on its way to a state championship. The Wildcatz won the state title the next year, and Newman was bumped up to Class 3A.
With the exception of the 2015 season, when Newman was in Class 3A and EPC failed to make the playoffs, either the Wildcatz or Comets were the top seed in Class 2A every year from 2010 through 2017.
In Class 1A, North District B would have AFC, Fulton, Milledgeville and Morrison with Aurora Christian, Hiawatha, Mooseheart, Ottawa Marquette and South Beloit.
While most teams would see their schedules filled with new and sometimes unfamiliar opponents, many conference rivalries would be intact. The Sterling-Geneseo game, which migrates from the NIB-12 to the Western Big 6 this fall, appears to be on tap in the district format as well. Five of the seven teams Erie-Prophetstown would face in district play were on the Panthers’ schedule in 2018. The entirety of Class 1A North District 1 (Dakota, East Dubuque, Forreston, Aquin, Galena, Lena-Winslow, Orangeville, Stockton and Warren) would be made up of current NUIC teams.
The IHSA stressed when it released these mock districts that the specifics are still up in the air. Over the next 2 years, enrollments might rise or fall, teams may opt to go to 8-man football, teams currently in co-ops may split off or new co-ops might form. Any one of those would send ripple effects through every district as teams would get reshuffled.
“These are just mocks, and in a couple years it could look different,” Kreczmer said. “It’s nice to have a visual, but there will be a lot of changes.”
“I think the IHSA was pretty clear that that’s not what it will look like in ’21, but you get an idea of possible lines and general direction,” Schlemmer said.