In a move that was expected after a town hall meeting Oct. 23 and a special school board meeting last Thursday, Rantoul has decided to leave the Corn Belt Conference and join a revamped Okaw Valley Conference with Maroa-Forsyth, Monticello, St. Joseph-Ogden, St. Thomas More and Unity.
The new Okaw will go into effect for the 2014-15 school year, and more teams could be added to the mix by then.
The six new conference partners met Monday in Champaign, and Rantoul athletic director Joe Bendoraitis said the general consensus is to keep the Okaw Valley name intact.
“We’re going to meet more on bylaws,” Bendoraitis said. “The (athletic directors) agreed to meet again Jan. 8, and at this point we’re trying to build it to an eight- or 10-team conference. It was agreed we can’t start scheduling until we know who all the teams are going to be.”
Bendoraitis said letters will go out to four schools this week asking their interest in joining the Okaw to possibly make it an eight-team or 10-team conference. He declined to name those schools but said a Dec. 14 deadline was established for those four schools to either apply or not apply to join the conference for the start of the 2014-15 school year.
At Monday’s meeting the schools decided to name SJ-O Principal Brian Brooks the president of the revamped Okaw.
Brooks declined to name the four schools that were contacted about possible expansion.
“It was a unanimous decision at our (Monday) meeting that if any of the four schools decide to apply, they will be accepted no matter how many end up applying,” Bendoraitis said. “Their acceptance will not be based on how many of the other three schools apply or what number of schools that might leave the conference with.”
Though unconfirmed, speculation is that interest could include some combination of Clinton, Decatur St. Teresa, Olympia, Paxton-Buckley-Loda and Tuscola.
Athletic director John Overstreet said last Friday the Okaw had not reached out to PBL.
PBL is in the Sangamon Valley Conference, but the fate of that conference could be decided when principals of that league meet today, when Dwight is expected to be admitted as a seventh member. SJ-O and St. Thomas More are members of the Sangamon Valley but informed the league Friday of their intentions to leave.
“We’ll just explore what the options are,” Overstreet said. “PBL would like to stay with the Watsekas and Iroquois Wests and Clifton Centrals because it goes back to the old Wauseca Conference. Our natural rivals and games we’ve played for generations have been with those schools more so than the ones to the south of us. (Today) will be a big day.
“It’ll be a day where everybody will see where the options are. PBL has got to do what is in the best interests and so will all the other principals.”
Mahomet-Seymour AD Matt Hensley said Monday no one from the Okaw had contacted his school about its interest.
“We’ve had both a conference and nonconference longstanding relationship with Rantoul,” Hensley said. “We wish them the best of luck.”
Hensley did not say if Rantoul and Mahomet-Seymour still would continue to play each other in nonconference games once the 2014-15 school year arrives.
“I think it’s too early to speculate,” he said.
Rantoul Principal Todd Wilson said Friday he informed Corn Belt president Lance Thurman, the principal at Stanford Olympia, of the Eagles’ intentions to leave the Corn Belt.
“I would say we’re not surprised,” Thurman said. “I know they, and most of our other conference members, have been recruited probably for most of this school year with different options out there. The geography is becoming more of a reality for public schools as the state doesn’t fund transportation (as much). I think it was a no-brainer for Rantoul.”
Thurman said he’s not sure what Rantoul’s move will mean for the future of the Corn Belt once the 2014-15 school year hits.
“It’s going to be a challenge for us because we need to strongly consider for the health of the Corn Belt and the future reality of what we have with our school districts (by including) transportation into more and more of our discussions,” Thurman said. “One of the things we’ll also have to look at is the size because, again, you’re starting to get some discrepancies in enrollment on both the top end and the bottom end.”
Nora Maberry-Daniels and Fred Kroner contributed to this report