Rantoul, STM, SJ-O take steps toward new league

Rantoul High School is leaving the Corn Belt Conference and will join with Maroa-Forsyth, Monticello, St. Joseph-Ogden, St. Thomas More and Unity to form a six-team conference that will begin at the start of the 2014-15 school year, Rantoul Principal Todd Wilson said Friday.
Wilson said he informed Corn Belt president Lance Thurman, the principal at Stanford Olympia, of the Eagles’ intentions and will file a formal notice to withdraw from the eight-school league by Thursday.
Rantoul has to give notice to the Corn Belt by that date for the move to take effect.
Rantoul athletic director Joe Bendoraitis said all six schools will meet Monday morning in Champaign to further talks of the new conference.
“We’ll get that going, talk about the conference name, the bylaws and all those details, along with what teams we’re looking to invite to try to get to seven or eight teams,” Bendoraitis said, declining to name which schools that might be. “Our next step is to have meetings and work out the framework for the conference and go over those little details.”
Bendoraitis said each school in the new conference has written letters of commitment to one another, a key concern for some Rantoul High School board members and Rantoul residents at a town hall meeting Tuesday in the school’s gym.
“If it wasn’t something the public didn’t want, we wouldn’t be doing it,” Bendoraitis said. “We’ve done our due diligence, done our homework and made sure the other schools were committed. We were the last ones to be on board, really. Everybody else that we’re dealing with here is excited about it.”
Maroa-Forsyth, Monticello and Unity are in the Okaw Valley Conference. St. Joseph-Ogden and St. Thomas More are in the Sangamon Valley Conference, but SJ-O Principal Brian Brooks said the Spartans informed the SVC on Friday morning they would leave the conference after the 2013-14 school year. Paxton-Buckley-Loda AD John Overstreet said the SVC received letters from Brooks and STM Principal Ryan Bustle on Friday, and the SVC will formally accept those letters when SVC principals meet Wednesday.
Wilson said he is excited for Rantoul to make the move from the Corn Belt to the new conference, which still could be called the Okaw Valley Conference or go by another name.
“It was not something that we went out looking for, but it was an opportunity that fell in our lap,” Wilson said. “Now, we’ve just got to see what happens next.”
Monticello AD Randy Moss said the new conference will be centered around the remaining OVC members.
“I think all six schools are a good fit for this conference,” Moss said Friday.
The news provides a bit of closure to the whirlwind of rumors, speculation and school withdrawals that surrounded the Okaw much of this past summer and fall. Moss said “relief” doesn’t even begin to describe how he feels after enduring months of conference realignment talks.
“I’m extremely excited about the possibility of these six schools getting together,” Moss said. “It’s something that has taken a long time to get to this point, but when it’s all said and done, I think this is the best we could have come out with was this group.”
Rantoul has an enrollment of 744 students. SJ-O and STM total 494 and 294 students, respectively. STM’s enrollment number bumps to 485.1 after the private school multiplier, according to the IHSA website.
“I think it is a really fine group as far as transportation and overall rivalries. I think you’ll start seeing those types of things build in this conference,” Moss said. “We’re all really excited about this opportunity.”
All three of the new schools are roughly 30-minute trips from Monticello. Moss said location was a big factor as the process unfolded.
“The proximity and travel is really outstanding,” he said. “Your fan base will be a lot better off because of the simple fact that people don’t have to travel as far. They’ll be there at home and away events. That means easier trips for weeknight games in sports like volleyball, basketball and baseball.
“As bleak as things looked maybe three weeks ago, I couldn’t have asked for a better outcome,” Moss said.

Andrew Helregel contributed to this report.
 

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