11 local schools to leave LOVC; new conference anticipated

11 local schools to leave LOVC; new conference anticipated

After a week’s worth of speculation, as well as submissions of withdrawal from two local schools, 13 other institutions have opted to leave the Little Okaw Valley Conference after the 2018-19 academic year.

Villa Grove and Heritage on Tuesday made their departures official. On Friday, the LOVC released a statement listing 13 more schools that have entered a withdrawal letter. Any institution that wished to leave the LOVC had to submit notification by today.

Local schools in that group are Arcola, Argenta-Oreana, Arthur-Lovington-Atwood-Hammond, Bement, Blue Ridge, Cerro Gordo, Kansas, Oakland and Shiloh — the latter three making up the Tri-County co-op. Other departing schools are Cumberland, Decatur LSA, Okaw Valley and Sangamon Valley, which leaves just Martinsville, Palestine, Oblong and Hutsonville as LOVC members after 2018-19.

Villa Grove athletic director Noreen Acton said Friday that difficult travel for all teams and instability in the LOVC's football sector most played into the decision for both her school and Heritage, which co-op on the gridiron and in other athletics.

"The ability of schools to schedule and complete varsity seasons was a driving force for us exploring other options," Acton said. "That's upsetting that (the football team) could lose one of those nine games."

ALAH principal Steffanie Seegmiller on Friday said Villa Grove and Arcola moving on from the LOVC “forced our hand” with regard to its own decision.

“It became apparent that our regular conference schedule would include the schools in the southern area,” Seegmiller said. “For transportation and costs, we just decided we needed to look elsewhere.” She also cited a need for “stable, consistent programming opportunities.”

The (Springfield) State Journal-Register's Dave Kane reported later Friday that tentative plans are in place for a new conference including several teams departing the LOVC.

Kane reported that Sangamon Valley football coach Michael Lee told him of a league that would begin operation for the 2019-2020 school year and include Arcola, Argenta-Oreana, ALAH, Bement, Blue Ridge, Cerro Gordo, Cumberland, Decatur LSA, Sangamon Valley, Tri-County and Villa Grove.

The report did not mention Heritage individually, but considering its frequent co-op status with Villa Grove, as well as Acton saying the two schools were in "100 percent agreement" throughout the process of leaving the LOVC, Heritage could easily be part of this new league as well.

Acton confirmed multiple LOVC schools are in talks to begin a new conference, but she could not confirm which ones or how many. She did say, however, that both Villa Grove and Heritage received an offer to join the Vermilion Valley Conference after reaching out to Brent Rademacher, Bismarck-Henning/Rossville-Alvin's principal.

While Acton called the invite "appealing," she said Villa Grove and Heritage hope to stick with the departing LOVC institutions.

The LOVC got its start in the early 1970s when Arthur, Atwood-Hammond, Bement, Cerro Gordo, Newman and Oakland left the Okaw Valley Conference to form their own league. Villa Grove joined shortly thereafter, with Arcola being added in 1981.

By the 2013-14 school year, the LOVC counted all of the above schools minus Newman, plus Martinsville, among its ranks. But beginning with the 2014-15 academic year, the conference split into two divisions that included 18 of the 19 schools currently involved. Blue Ridge is the exception, as it was set to become a football member next school year while playing other sports in the Heart of Illinois Conference.

“(The decision) was not made lightly,” Seegmiller said. “It was hashed around multiple times. To be honest with you, it’s what’s best for our students.”