Okaw Valley, Corn Belt conferences will merge

Okaw Valley, Corn Belt conferences will merge

PONTIAC — The merger between the Okaw Valley and Corn Belt conferences is complete.
Pontiac became the final school to approve the new conference at Tuesday’s school board meeting, meaning a new 10-team league commences beginning with the 2017-18 school year.

“I’m excited,” said St. Thomas More principal and Okaw Valley Conference president Ryan Bustle. “I went to a Corn Belt school (Normal University) so I know the tradition there, and I know the tradition in the Okaw. When you mix them together, gosh, that’s a lot of good competition.”

Discussions to create a new conference began in early February, when athletic directors from both schools met, and the merger proceeded quickly from there.

The next step for the new conference will come this summer, when principals and athletic directors will sit down and write the conference bylaws and decide on a name.

Bustle said each school will contribute a few names to decide from. He said St. Thomas More’s suggestions came from a meeting with the student council.

As for the bylaws, Bustle said the schools wanted to make sure to write in provisions that go beyond sports, including requirements for art, chorus and band shows along with professional development for teachers.

“We wanted to make sure we had those things in there as far as in our bylaws so we’re held to it,” Bustle said. “It’s one thing to say it, but we’re going to put it in bylaws to make sure that it’s going to happen.”

The new conference will necessitate more travel for all 10 schools, but Bustle said members wouldn’t hesitate to move football games to Saturday when needed or feature more weekend doubleheaders.

“(We want to) as little as possible pull kids out of school for events or get kids back at 11 on a school night,” Bustle said. “That’s really been a focus of ours, to keep that to a bare minimum.

“(The principals and athletic directors) all understand that there probably is a little more travel for the schools, but we’ve all been real flexible.”

The merger won’t come for another year, but for two conferences that faced uncertainty from year to year, Monday was a landmark day.

“Take a look at the sports and the state championships won, just in recent years, by all 10 of us,” Bustle said. “You’re going to be hard-pressed to find better competition in a state within a conference.”


Old, new frenemies
A look at the schools involved in the merger between the Corn Belt and Okaw Valley conferences:

SCHOOL    ’15-’16 CONF.
Bloomington Central Catholic    Corn Belt
Illinois Valley Central    Corn Belt
Monticello    Okaw Valley
Olympia    Corn Belt
Pontiac    Corn Belt
Prairie Central    Corn Belt
Rantoul    Okaw Valley
St. Joseph-Ogden    Okaw Valley
St. Thomas More    Okaw Valley
Unity    Okaw Valley