PAXTON — Thirty-one years.
That’s what Paxton-Buckley-Loda’s tenure in the Sangamon Valley Conference will finish at after it was announced Monday afternoon that the school will join the Illini Prairie Conference beginning in the 2021-22 academic year.
IPC president Brad Allen, also Prairie Central’s principal, told The News-Gazette that current IPC principals approved PBL’s inclusion in the league Monday by unanimous vote.
“Excited to join what is a very strong conference, both athletically and academically,” Panthers athletic director Brock Niebuhr said. “But, obviously, it is difficult to leave something you’ve been a part of for such a long time.”
PBL was one of four institutions that threw its name in the ring to enter the IPC after Allen in February published a statement on behalf of the conference requesting applications for either a football-only member or an all-sports member. PBL is joining the IPC in all sports.
This call-out was in response to St. Thomas More leaving IHSA football in January for a position in the Illinois 8-Man Football Association. STM is staying in the IPC in all other sports.
PBL joined the SVC in 1990. Niebuhr previously said his school’s larger enrollment, compared to those of other league members, prompted Panthers officials to look into joining the IPC.
“For schools that obviously aren’t close to us as far as distance and travel goes, for them to vote to approve PBL says a lot about both them and what they think we can provide for the conference,” Niebuhr said. “Now it’s our job to go in there and prove we belong.”
The SVC will be left with six all-sports members and Seneca in a football capacity should nothing else change by the time of PBL’s 2021 departure.
SVC president Josh Houberg, also Iroquois West’s principal, couldn’t be reached for comment Monday regarding what next steps his league might take.
As for PBL’s impending final run in the SVC, Niebuhr doesn’t expect extra emphasis placed on 2020-21’s league matchups versus the feelings associated with previous seasons’ battles.
“There might be a little bit of a target on our back, and that’s OK,” he said. “We’ll have to be ready for that, but that’s something we can look forward to next year.”
Colin Likas is prep sports coordinator at The News-Gazette. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org, and you can follow him on Twitter (@clikasNG).