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St. Joseph-Ogden High School is leaving the Sangamon Valley Conference.
As of last week the district officially committed to withdrawing from the SVC effective upon completion of the 2013-14 school year, said SJO principal Brian Brooks.
SJO will join a new conference starting with the 2014-15 school year. The conference will include Maroa-Forsyth, Monticello, Rantoul, St. Thomas More and Unity.
The conference, of which Brooks is the president, will retain the Okaw Valley Conference name.
"I think the consensus was that the Okaw Valley Conference has been around for many years and has an outstanding reputation across the state," Brooks said. "The group felt very good about keeping that name intact, and hopefully upholding the Okaw's great reputation."
The new conference has decided to invite four additional schools to join.
Each school will receive a formal invite in the next few days.
"It was a unanimous decision at our meeting that if any of the four schools decide to apply, they will be accepted no matter how many end up applying," Brooks said. "Their acceptance will not be based on how many of the other three schools apply, or what number of schools that might leave the conference with."
Brooks said all the schools feel positive about the conference and are equally content with just six teams.
"In reality, the only sport impacted in a negative way if we have six schools is football and that is due to scheduling," he said.
Brooks said community support for the move has been high.
"There was a lot talk this weekend at the sectional cross country meet and the football playoff game regarding the change in conferences," he said. "Community members are very excited about it."
Brooks said he feels the new conference will be very positive for SJO athletics.
"I think you automatically have natural geographic rivalries with Unity, STM, Rantoul and Monticello with the new conference, and some of those have been great rivalries in the past for SJO dating back many years," he said.
Brooks said he could also see rivalries developing in certain sports with Maroa-Forsyth as well once the conference gets going.
"With these types of schools and communities, and the ease of which every schools' fans can get to each of the events, we foresee potentially having some great crowds and atmospheres for each schools' student-athletes to participate in," Brooks said.
Brooks said the district thought the conference was a good fit for SJO due to the proximity of the schools and because the schools share similar philosophies for athletics and academics.
Brooks said that transportation did play a pivotal role in the decision.
"That will not only be advantageous for our student-athletes in reducing long bus rides to these events, but it is also going to be great for our parents and families," Brooks said. "It will reduce travel costs for both the school and the families."
Brooks said the district thinks that the new conference
will give students more opportunities for other extracurricular activities such as band, chorus and scholastic bowl.
"Also, the principals of each of the schools have already talked about creating an 'academic sharing' type of situation where we share ideas on what each school is doing in their buildings in terms of curriculum, instruction and professional development," Brooks said.
Brooks said the six schools agree that the conference will be an outstanding athletic conference but they also want this conference to be more than just athletics.
"We feel that we can all assist each other in strengthening our academic programs," he said. "I know we are really excited about that piece of the puzzle."
Brooks said that while the SVC is a strong athletic conference, the district feels the new conference will be even stronger.
"The winner of the conference in each sport will have accomplished something to be extremely proud of," he said. "The fifth and sixth place teams in a given year in this conference in the various sports will be very good teams, so getting first place will be special."
Brooks said he felt theconference would not only be competitive in volleyball, football and basketball but also cross country and track.
"You will have some of the top cross country and track programs in the state all in one conference," he said.
Brooks said the SJO coaches are supportive of the change and are excited about the possibility of playing these teams.
"They see it as an chance to make our programs even stronger, and provide greater opportunities for our kids," he said.
Brooks said the schools will discuss which other schools to invite to the conference during their meeting next week.
The SJO school board will approve the conference change at their November meeting.