WOODSTOCK – Woodstock athletic director Glen Wilson holds an affinity for the Fox Valley Conference, a league in which he competed in sports and has been a part of close to a quarter century.
Yet Wilson felt his alma mater’s best interests might lie with a conference of smaller schools. That will happen when the Kishwaukee River Conference starts its maiden voyage in August.
The KRC held its first kickoff luncheon Wednesday at Crystal Woods Golf Club, with athletic directors and coaches representing the seven league schools attending. It is a group well-matched in geography and population.
“We love the FVC and have great relationships, but showing up with 900 students against somebody that’s double you, in terms of enrollment, it started to wear on our student-athletes and our coaches,” Wilson said. “We started thinking about what’s best for our students and how could we serve them in our current model.”
Talks began about three years ago, eventually leading to Woodstock and Woodstock North departing the FVC, while Burlington Central, Harvard, Johnsburg, Marengo and Richmond-Burton left the Big Northern Conference.
Woodstock, with an enrollment of 965 students, and Woodstock North (900) experienced difficulties competing in some sports, even with two divisions.
“It’ll be great for our kids to compete against schools that are similar in size,” North athletic director Brady Stromquist said. “It was a lot of work and a lot of time. it was hard because you don’t see any of that stuff really paying off (now).”
Stromquist thinks people will be even more excited when conference champions and all-conference teams are handed out for the first time.
The KRC will have a Kishwaukee Cup for the school with the best overall boys and girls sports each year. There are plans for a cross country jamboree early in the fall and a KRC softball tournament the week before regional tournaments start each spring.
Richmond-Burton athletic director and football coach Pat Elder worked on scheduling for football, which was complicated by having an odd number of schools. The KRC paired with the BNC to alleviate that scheduling problem.
“It was not a natural (scheduling) rubric,” Elder said. “Several factors played into it.”
The BNC, which now has 11 schools, will play an eight-game schedule, meaning each team will not play all of the BNC teams. The four smallest teams will not play nonconference games against KRC teams, allowing the BNC’s seven largest to line up in Weeks 3 through 9 for nonconference games against KRC teams.
“Clearing that football hurdle, scheduling-wise, allowed us to then focus on all the other things that needed to be addressed,” Elder said.
Woodstock District 200 expected increasing enrollment when North was opened in the 2009-10 school year. Instead, the numbers leveled off and the Woodstock schools found themselves trying to compete with some schools twice their size.
“I know the dynamic is changing after the schools split a few years ago,” Woodstock football coach Tommy Thompson said. “It’ll be better for our school as a whole, not just the football program. If you had to pick out one (advantage for the larger schools) it’s the size of their rosters. Just being in this conference is going to help us overall.”
Woodstock principal Justin Smith opened the meeting Wednesday and spoke about how the new league will keep searching for new members in hopes of reaching an even number that would help in scheduling.
“We’re a seven-team conference, we’re always looking to potentially add schools down the road to make this conference stronger,” Smith said. “A lot of that will depend on us. How well we run this conference, how well our coaches work together, how well our athletic directors work together, will be the main driver and incentive for other schools to want to participate with us. That’s something important to all keep in mind.”
Johnsburg softball coach Ted Juske is intrigued by the idea of a conference tournament.
“It’s going to be interesting,” Juske said. “You may play a team three times with the way spring schedules area. It’s something I haven’t seen around here.”
Kishwaukee River Conference
Enrollments from the 2015-16 school year
Burington Central 1,063
Woodstock North 900