Three of the Sangamon Valley Conference’s longest-standing members will join the Vermilion Valley Conference when the 2021-22 school year commences.
Watseka, Iroquois West and Cissna Park all will depart the league they’ve called home since the 1990s in response to Paxton-Buckley-Loda accepting a March invitation to become a new member of the Illini Prairie Conference starting in the 2021-22 school year.
The realignment was announced Wednesday morning, following each SVC member’s respective school board meeting earlier this week.
Iroquois West athletic director Kristy Arie said PBL’s decision to leave the SVC “kind of spearheaded everything going in that direction.”
“It’s obviously not something we went looking for,” Arie said, “but we feel we exhausted all efforts trying to bring another school or two into the SVC.”
PBL’s impending exit would have left the SVC with six all-sports members — Clifton Central, Cissna Park, Dwight, Iroquois West, Momence and Watseka — for the 2021-22 school year, along with Seneca in a football-only capacity.
Instead, the VVC will expand to at least 13 schools beginning in 2021.
The three current SVC members will team up with Armstrong-Potomac, Bismarck-Henning/Rossville-Alvin, Chrisman, Georgetown-Ridge Farm, Hoopeston Area, Milford, Oakwood, Salt Fork, Schlarman and Westville.
“It strengthens our conference in all sports,” said Cole Huber, Chrisman’s prinicpal and the VVC president. “We’re pretty excited to get some more depth to some of our sports.”
The VVC’s current average IHSA enrollment is 251.6, paced by Westville’s 388 and rounded out by Chrisman’s 97. Cissna Park is the revamped league’s second-smallest school by IHSA enrollment at 98, Iroquois West ranks sixth of the 13 schools at 291 and Watseka falls fourth at 310.
Cissna Park athletic director Josh Landon said VVC officials reached out to those at Iroquois West and Watseka about potential membership after PBL made its conference decision.
That prompted Cissna Park, which forms an 8-man football cooperative with Milford, to inquire about snagging a VVC spot as well.
“We wanted to give our kids a chance to be able to participate in a conference, and we feel like it’s a good fit,” Landon said. “As far as proximity, the schools we’ll be competing against seem to be relatively comparable in terms of distance traveled.”
On top of the Milford/Cissna Park gridiron co-op, SVC and VVC schools regularly have filled nonconference dates on one another’s football schedules in recent years.
Precedent also exists for current SVC and VVC schools to compete in a league together.
The old Wauseca Conference, which lasted from 1928 through 1990, at one point or another included Georgetown, Hoopeston-East Lynn, Iroquois West, Milford, Oakwood, Schlarman, Watseka and Westville, as well as Gilman and Onarga before Iroquois West’s existence.
“We’ve always had a great relationship (with VVC schools),” Watseka athletic director Barry Bauer said. “We already knew what a good conference it is, and it’ll be competitive for us.”
Both Arie and Bauer speculated the SVC, which has been around since 1948, may cease to exist after these latest planned moves. Iroquois West has been a member since 1993, Watseka since 1997 and Cissna Park since 1999. Only PBL, an SVC member since 1991, has been in the conference longer among current members.
“This is probably going to be it for the SVC,” Bauer said. “That’s kind of tough. ... (But) it’s nice that Cissna and Iroquois West are also going. That helps.”
“It was hard because we’ve been loyal members (of the SVC) and had great relationships with all those member schools,” Arie added. “For Iroquois West moving forward, I think it’s positive as far as what our future holds.”
Cissna Park, Iroquois West and Watseka will bring relatively recent IHSA postseason success to the VVC.
Cissna Park boys’ basketball finished second in the 2019 Class 1A state tournament, while the Timberwolves’ volleyball program racked up third- and second-place state trophies in 1A in 2014 and 2015, respectively.
Iroquois West girls’ basketball notched fourth place in the 2015 1A state tournament, and the Raiders football program won a 2A state championship in 2003.
Watseka volleyball finished third in state in 2A during the 2014 season, and the Warriors’ baseball program was 2009’s fourth-place finisher in 2A.
“Some of the northern schools had very, very positive things to say about (the three schools’) administration and coaches and fans,” Huber said. “They gave very good reviews.”
When asked if VVC officials would consider adding one more member to get the league to 14 schools — potentially simplifying some scheduling and conference tournament matters with an even number of participants — Huber said he is “unsure of that at this time.”
Momence athletic director Ted Rounds told The News-Gazette the Redskins are “literally exploring every possible scenario” for their future conference alignment.