Decatur school officials were cautiously optimistic the Central State Eight would approve their petition for MacArthur and Eisenhower to join the conference after submitting it last month.
Turns out deputy superintendent Lisa Mann, who helped organize the proposal, will have good news to take back to the Decatur School Board. Central State Eight principals and athletics directors met Wednesday and voted to add MacArthur and Eisenhower as new member schools for the 2014-15 school year.
“We were definitely hopeful and kind of had our fingers crossed,” Mann said about waiting for the vote. She said she also felt some relief after hearing the news because the petition was a calculated risk, and she didn’t want to take bad news back to the board.
The Decatur schools have had interest in the CS8 before — Eisenhower athletics director Greg Collingwood said it cropped up three or four years ago when he was still coaching — but Springfield High School athletics director Gary Dorr said this was the first time since he’s been involved in the conference that the CS8 got a formal petition.
Dorr also said it didn’t take long in Wednesday’s meeting to approve the addition of Eisenhower and MacArthur.
“I really think when we got to (Wednesday) it was an easy choice,” he said. “Until we got the formal application we couldn’t vote on it. The major discussion wasn’t today; it’s been previous.
“We were impressed that they were putting some money into their facilities. In our mind, that will make them stronger. It solidifies our conference, and geographically it’s just a really good fit.
“We think we’re one of the elite conferences — definitely in central Illinois, but southern Illinois also. MacArthur and Eisenhower have some programs that will fit in right at the top.
But simply moving from the Big 12 Conference to the CS8, however, won’t produce immediate dividends for the Decatur schools. The CS8 is equally as competitive of a conference as the Big 12, and the Decatur officials know that.
Rochester has won three straight Class 4A football championships under Derek Leonard, while dad Ken Leonard runs a football dynasty (13 straight playoff trips, three state titles since 2005) at Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin.
Springfield High went to state in girls basketball four of the last five years, and the conference is strong top to bottom on the boys side with Lincoln posting a losing record just once since Neil Alexander took over in the 1990-91 season.
Springfield Southeast has been a girls track power of late, Chatham Glenwood is tough in baseball and boys soccer and Jacksonville finished fourth in state in volleyball last fall and has a long tradition of winning teams.
Mann, Collingwood and Mel Roustio — the district’s athletics consultant — all said there’s plenty to do in-house to put the Decatur schools on the same competitive level as those in the CS8.
“The reality is we’re not going to go into the Central State Eight and suddenly become a dominant athletic force,” Collingwood said. “We have some work to do here in our own district to change some perceptions.”
Mann said administrators and coaches have already had some conversations about establishing consistency between the high schools and the grade schools and middle schools feeding into those programs. She also said the school district planned to work with the community as well to help build that consistency.
“In time we’ll fit fine,” Roustio added. “I think the sentiment has been aptly communicated by members of the board of education, by the administration, by yours truly when we say to our own there are no guarantees of competitiveness predicated on the league you are in. That said, we still need to look inwardly to continue a self examination of our coaching education approaches and in regards to our feeder system per sport.
“Our coaches need to do that, do that with a passion and do that with a sense of accountability. Then, and only then, will we be a fit anywhere.”
NOTES: Eisenhower and MacArthur’s move to the CS8 will reunite the Decatur pair with several members of the old Capitol Conference, including Jacksonville, Lanphier, Southeast and SHG (which was just Griffin then). … Roustio, coaching at Jacksonville at the time, was involved in the formation of the CS8 in 1993 after Eisenhower, MacArthur, Champaign Centennial and Normal left the Capitol Conference for the Big 12 a decade earlier. … Collingwood competed in the Capitol Conference for Eisenhower, coached track and cross country for the Panthers in the Big 12 and will be the first Eisenhower athletics director in the CS8.