Midwest Prep leaves Rantoul

Marques Sullivan, left, founder and director of Midwest Prep Academy, and Mark Wirth, the academy’s business manager, stand inside the locker room for what formerly was used by the University of Illinois football players for Camp Rantoul in December 2016. The academy used the facilities in Rantoul for two seasons. However, Sullivan and Wirth moved it up to suburban Chicago so Wirth can be closer to his ailing parents. (Dave Hinton/Rantoul Press)

RANTOUL — Midwest Prep Academy, which has operated the past two years in Rantoul, will not return for a third year.

Academy Business Manager Mark Wirth said the move was more for personal reasons than any dissatisfaction with Rantoul.

Wirth said he wanted the academy to return to northern Illinois to be closer to his aging parents.

“The main reason is the travel time between where we live in Rantoul and where my parents live,” Wirth said. “It’s tough to take care of them.”

Wirth said his mother has been “extremely sick,” and he also helps take care of his father, who is 89.

“It’s all about family,” said Wirth, who didn’t rule out a return to Rantoul someday.

The academy will operate this year in Orland Hills, which Wirth said is 15 minutes from his parents’ home.

He said the academy has had a good level of athlete enrollment  the past two years, and said they have been successful.

“One hundred percent of our kids had offers (from colleges) this year, and all did good on the ACT test,” he said. “Their average increase was four points.

They all did well. I’m really proud of the kids.”

The academy is designed to shore up a youngster’s academics and give him a better chance to play college football.

Marques Sullivan started, and continues to operate, Midwest Prep Academy. Wirth is basically Sullivan’s right hand man.

A former University of Illinois offensive lineman under coach Ron Turner, who initiated Camp Rantoul, Sullivan said earlier he saw the value of the Rantoul camp while a college player.

Sullivan operated the camp for three years in Orland Hills before moving it to Rantoul. The camp operates from mid summer to the end of October, and Wirth said it will add basketball this year.

The office building that the academy used at 1112 Enterprise Drive was sold by the village this month.

Players were housed the second year at Holiday Inn Express and took their meals at Red Wheel restaurant, both of which Wirth credited for their service.

Wirth said he and Sullivan would have been glad to continue in Rantoul were it not for the traveling distance to his parents.

“The locker room area was perfect for us,” Wirth said. “When the weather was bad, we could do our walk-throughs there.”

CURRENT ON LOAN

Midwest Prep was awarded a $20,000 microloan from the village of Rantoul in September 2017. The loan is being paid back at 2 percent interest over seven years.

Village Administrator Scott Eisenhauer said the academy is current on the loan and made its March payment.

Rantoul Rec Department Superintendent Luke Humphrey said the academy used a couple of fields on base near the locker room, which village staff maintained. He said Sullivan informed him a few weeks ago that the academy would not be returning.

The University of Illinois had operated Camp Rantoul at that site for 17 of the previous 18 years through 2016 when Coach Lovie Smith opted to hold practices on the U of I campus.

“When Camp Rantoul left, we felt Midwest Prep was a very good fit,” Humphrey said. “No. 1, I’m sad to see them going, but No. 2, I was hoping it would be a benefit for not only the village but also the athletes and the local community that could use the academy.”

Like college coaches, part of Humphrey’s job is recruiting. In this case, it’s recruiting teams or groups to use the Rantoul rec facilities.

“I’m in the process of identifying some other groups to rent the facility,” Humphrey said.

“We have a very good relationship with Visit Champaign County, so I think initially I’ll be touching base with Ryan Reed (with that organization) just to get the word out and see if there are any partners out there around the Midwest looking for a facility.”

Multiple high school teams hold camps in Rantoul, and two Ultimate Frisbee tournaments have been held there, including one this past weekend, the first of which drew several hundred participants.

dhinton@rantoulpress.com