SJ-O, STM, Rantoul consider joining Okaw Valley

Will the Okaw Valley Conference be around in two years?
Stay tuned.
Representatives from six schools — Maroa-Forsyth, Monticello, Rantoul, St. Joseph-Ogden, St. Thomas More and Unity — met Tuesday to discuss possible conference realignment options, Rantoul athletic director Joe Bendoraitis said Thursday.
“It was just more talking at this point,” Bendoraitis said. “There’s the schools that have to do something, and that’s Unity, Monticello and Maroa-Forsyth, and then there’s the three schools that are already in a conference and are just listening.”
SJ-O and STM are in the Sangamon Valley Conference. Those two, along with Rantoul, Monticello and Unity, first met Oct. 2. Maroa-Forsyth did not have any representatives at the first meeting.
When nine of the 12 Okaw Valley schools departed to form the Central Illinois Conference — which is now down to eight after Argenta-Oreana left to join the Little Okaw Valley Conference — it left Maroa-Forsyth, Monticello and Unity in search of new schools with which to form a conference.
“From what I understand, they didn’t technically get kicked out of the Okaw,” Bendoraitis said. “All the other schools left the Okaw, so there is the possibility of them retaining the Okaw name, along with that budget, and just replacing the teams that basically left the conference.”
Bendoraitis has said previously that Rantoul’s stance is to have more than six teams in a conference. He reiterated that point Thursday.
“Six teams doesn’t make a conference,” Bendoraitis said. “It’d have to be at least eight. Ideally if you can get to 10, that’d be good because then you’d have no nonconference football games. Those are the tricky ones. It’s just talk right now. As far as we’re concerned, we’re in the Corn Belt.”
Six teams in a conference is the minimum for a football conference champion to automatically make the playoffs. Anything less than six doesn’t guarantee a playoff spot.
Neither Bendoraitis, Unity AD Scott Hamilton nor Monticello AD Randy Moss divulged any additional schools the Okaw might want to invite to make it an eight-team or 10-team conference.
“We’re waiting and seeing with Rantoul,” Moss said. “That core group would be the group that would make any decisions on any other schools. In the next couple weeks I’d hope something would be done.”
The current Okaw structure will disband when the 2014-15 school year arrives, making it more of a priority for Maroa-Forsyth, Monticello and Unity.
“Obviously sooner rather than later would benefit everybody involved,” Hamilton said. “Our hope and our wish would be that I would wake up tomorrow morning and that there’d be six schools all in. That’d be the greatest thing in the world for me.”
Moss said the six schools plan to meet in the next week or two, but he didn’t have a definitive date. Bendoraitis said the Corn Belt ADs are slated to meet Nov. 1, when the conference’s future will be discussed.
“It’s kind of a discovery process at this point in time,” Bendoraitis said. “We’re being courted, is what I would say. So far we’ve been to two meetings, and we’ve listened.”

Changes at Blue Ridge
Blue Ridge Superintendent Susan Wilson said rumors of the district eliminating the high school football program are not true.
Her comments came during the Blue Ridge school board meeting Oct. 17 in which board members approved the resignations of head coach Kent Miller and assistant coach David Kirby and scheduled a meeting at 7 p.m. Nov. 8 at the high school to discuss the football program
Josh Moody and Tim Revels will serve as coaches for the remainder of the season.
Wilson said the coaches’ resignations were due to personal reasons.
“We are looking at our current football program and weighing options for the future,” Wilson said.
Options under consideration include keeping the program as it is with a varsity and junior varsity team; running a JV-only schedule for a few years; or forming a football co-op with another district.
Wilson said they are open to other ideas and suggestions.
The Nov. 8 meeting is for current football players, future players, their parents and coaches.
“We especially would like to hear from the students as to the direction they would like to go,” Wilson said.
Junior Football League players, parents and coaches also are encouraged to attend the meeting. While JFL is a community-sponsored group and not school-based, Wilson said its insights are valued.
“They have a strong interest in what happens at the high school level,” she said.
Wilson said the reason for the discussion is to find a way to help the program become more successful.
The Blue Ridge football team has three wins and 68 losses over the past eight seasons.
The number of students who have signed up to play also has decreased over the past few years, which leaves next year’s team “pretty young,” Wilson said.
Kelly Youngblood

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