BETHANY — The 15 schools that announced in December 2017 they're leaving the Little Okaw Valley Conference will form the Lincoln Prairie Conference in 2019-20.
According to a press release from LOVC president Matthew Shoaff, principal at Okaw Valley, the 15 schools — Arcola, Arthur-Lovington-Atwood-Hammond, Cerro Gordo, Bement, Argenta-Oreana, Sangamon Valley, Okaw Valley, LSA, Cumberland, Kansas, Oakland, Hume Shiloh, Villa Grove, Heritage and Farmer City Blue Ridge — voted unanimously on the new conference.
The 10-team football conference will debut in the fall. Because of co-ops, there are between 11 and 14 teams in the other sports. Shoaff said schedules and officials are set for next year in all the sports.
The Lincoln Prairie name came up in a principals' meeting two weeks ago, according to Shoaff. Each principal went back and talked to their school boards about it and took input. Shoaff emailed the principals Monday night and the Lincoln Prairie Conference was unanimously approved, 15-0.
"I think it is going to be a good fit for everyone involved," Shoaff said. "We want to be one of the best small school conferences around. Everyone brings their own positive aspect to the conference and that is what I am excited about."
The four LOVC schools that won't be a part of the Lincoln Prairie are Martinsville, Hutsonville, Palestine and Oblong. The LOVC name will stay with those teams, though none were original members. The Little Okaw was formed on June 10, 1970, with Arthur, Atwood-Hammond, Bement, Cerro Gordo, Newman and Oakland the charter members.
"Those four schools own the right to the name," Shoaff said. "It is hard pill to swallow not being the LOVC as there is a long history in it and a lot of loyalty and good memories. Obviously that is hard for some to accept, but there is nothing we can do about it. We look forward to the future of the LPC."
Oblong superintendent Jeff Patchett said the remaining teams will keep the LOVC name and try to find teams to join the conference.
"We’ve got our schedules made out for the next couple of years, and we've met with Palestine, Hutsonville and Martinsville and will continue on with the LOVC," Patchett said. "There is definitely a possibility there will be other schools adding on — to be determined in the future. That’s our plan — to make it known that they can join us and it’s a good situation for us and a good situation for them we are willing to sit down and talk about it."
Villa Grove and Heritage first informed the LOVC they were withdrawing from the conference at a special meeting on Nov. 28, 2017. In the next two days, 13 others — including Macon County schools LSA, Argenta-Oreana, Sangamon Valley and Cerro Gordo-Bement — turned in letters of withdrawal saying they'd be leaving the conference on June 30, 2019.
In 2014, when LSA, Sangamon Valley, Argenta-Oreana, Hutsonville, Palestine and Oblong joined the conference, two separate divisions — the Northwest and the Southeast — were made. Games between the divisions were optional, but teams from both sides grew weary of travel to the far southeast part of the area.
Finding a stable 10-team football conference was also a goal, even with football districts coming in 2021. Martinsville has struggled recently to field a team, and Oblong joined the Palestine-Hutsonville co-op last season, which left the Southeast Division short a team.
"We are really excited to move forward in a 10-team closed football conference, and I also like having a larger basketball and volleyball conference along with baseball and softball," LSA athletic director Kurt Younghouse said.
"We’ve been trying to get a 10-team football closed conference and just as we get that all aligned, IHSA and the member schools have decided to go into divisions and districts. That eliminates what we were trying to do. Right now we are in plans for the next two years we will be a closed football conference and we will see what happens in 2021."