Just as Maroa-Forsyth is ready to begin play in the new Okaw Valley Conference, it's leaving it.
According to Maroa-Forsyth principal Scott Adreon, the Maroa School Board voted 7-0 to accept an invitation to the Sangamo Conference at its meeting on Monday. The vote came after a 3-4 vote to reject the invite.
Maroa athletic director Josh Jostes said the school plans to notify both the Okaw and Sangamo of its decision to enter the Sangamo for the 2016-17 school year. Jostes said that's the plan unless the Okaw finds a team sooner and wants them out before that.
It wasn't an easy decsision for Maroa, which was split in its opinions. Principal Scott Adreon and athletic director/football coach Josh Jostes wanted to stay in the Okaw, while the rest of the coaches prefered a move to the Sangamo.
"The board felt the students had a better chance of being competitive in the Sangamo," Adreon said. "I advocated staying in the Okaw. The board went against my recommendation, but they're good and bright people and they made the best decision for the students going forward."
Adreon said competitiveness was the deciding factor, though enrollments were also considered. At 312, Maroa is the smallest school in the Okaw, with Champaign St. Thomas More (460.35) the next smallest and Rantoul (787) the largest. Maroa will still be the smallest school in the Sangamo, but all of the football schools have enrollments between 384 and 473.
Adreon said travel was similar and not a major factor in the decision, though the Sangamo was probably slightly more total travel. Jostes said the fact that it's an easy trip to the Springfield area on I-72 and that there would be fewer long trips was a plus for the move.
"One of the problems with the Okaw was you're playing Rantoul and St. Joseph-Ogden home and away every season," Jostes said. "In the Sangamo, you only play the other conference teams once."
The Sangamo has experienced several changes in recent years, including the recent departure of Sangamon Valley and Pawnee. Currently, it has nine teams in football -- Athens, Auburn, New Berlin, Petersburg PORTA, Pittsfield, Pleasant Plains, Riverton, Virden North Mac and Williamsville. Mason City Illini Central is in the conference in all sports except football, while Pittsfield is in for football only.
Maroa approached the Sangamo two years ago when it wasn't invited to the Central Illinois Conference after the breakup of the Okaw, but was rejected in favor of Nokomis. But Nokomis later backed out, and the Sangamo decided to invite Maroa -- unanimously approving the invitation.
You have free articles remaining.
"This is a great addition for us," Auburn athletic director and football coach Dave Bates said. "I've been for them from the beginning. They're really the best fit for us. They give us 10 teams in football and they're a great addition to a conference that has top programs in all the sports.
"This has been a long road for us. We looked at a lot of schools -- North, South, East and West. But we kept coming back to their name."
Adreon and Jostes worked hard to help keep the Okaw a viable conference after eight teams broke off to make the CIC and Argenta-Oreana left for the Little Okaw Valley. The remaining three teams joined St. Joseph-Ogden, St. Thomas More and Rantoul to form a six-team conference.
Though admittedly not ideal, Adreon prefered to be loyal to the schools that had stuck with them during the split.
"I recommended that we stay and see how things shake out with other conferences in the area and see what the IHSA might do -- maybe something better would turn up," Adreon said. "We were left scrambling in the Okaw, but we came up with a viable option. I thought we should see that through."
But Adreon and Jostes agreed Maroa could be competitive in the Sangamo.
"I think we'll be competitive in whatever league we're in," Adreon said. "When we first joined the Okaw, we were worried if we could compete in it, and we became a top-tier Okaw team."
Jostes said while he felt Maroa could be competitive in what he called "Okaw 2.0," most discussions of adding teams in the future involved schools with larger enrollments.
"We wanted to try to get a couple more schools our size and in our area, but they don't exist," Jostes said. "It's tough being the little guy in a league every year, and any talk of expansion looked bad for us on that front."
Jostes said he hoped Maroa would remain in the Sangamo for a significant amount of time, but admitted it's still not as an ideal a situation as the CIC would be. Maroa wasn't invited to the CIC when it was formed.
"We had the decision of joining a Champaign league or a Springfield league -- the league we ought to be playing in, we can't," Jostes said. "We don't want to be a conference jumper. We hope the only time we would consider moving again is if something in our area with like-sized schools opened up. We saw how that worked out last time."