After six decades, Geneseo leaves NCIC

Lisa Depies

The Geneseo School Board officially voted to cut ties with the NCIC (North?Central Illinois? Conference).

At the June 11 meeting, board members unanimously approved leaving the conference at the end of the 2009-10 school year.

Board members called the decision to leave the conference Geneseo has been a part of since 1942 a “sad one” and school superintendent Scott Kuffel said he made the recommendation to leave the conference “reluctantly.”

However with regular Geneseo foes such as  Dixon, LaSalle-Peru, Ottawa, Sterling and Streator already leaving the conference, and the remaining smaller? NCIC schools refusing to play Geneseo, the school district faced becoming a district without a conference.

The NCIC, one of Illinois’ oldest high school athletic conferences, started facing turmoil several years ago when the conference split into two divisions — Reagan and Lincoln.

“It’s a sad day to leave the NCIC, but the real sad day occurred when the conference went to two divisions,” said Kuffel. “When we had a conference track meet, and the Reagan schools only ran against Reagan schools, and Lincoln schools only ran against Lincoln schools, then we were on our way to not being the? NCIC.”

Though the Lincoln and Reagan divisions were roughly divided geographically, the largest difference in the two was in school population. The bigger schools were on the Reagan side, with smaller schools in the Lincoln division.

Geneseo was the smallest school in the Reagan division.

When Kewanee ?High School on the Lincoln side decided to leave the conference, “it started a whole other set of dominos,” said Kuffel.

Following Kewanee’s decision, “We had numerous meetings on what the 2010 conference should look like,” Geneseo High School athletic director Travis Mackey told the Republic last week, “Some thought the natural progression would be to balance out the sides of the conference, while another proposal was to keep the conference at five schools and seven schools, and the Lincoln Division would search for schools to enter its side.”

The conference bylaws could have required Geneseo to move to the smaller side of the conference, a move both Geneseo and the Lincoln division schools opposed.

Elsewhere in the state, five schools — Rochelle, Maple Park Kaneland,?DeKalb, Sycamore and Yorkville — were growing increasingly dissatisfied with their own Western Sun Conference.

School officials in those communities felt their schools faced competitive disadvantages when paired with much larger conference foes Geneva, Batavia and Glenbard South.

The solution for all was to create a brand-new conference. The newly named Northern Illinois Big 12 Conference will be made up of Geneseo, LaSalle-Peru, Dixon,?Ottawa, Sterling and Streator in a western division and Maple Park Kaneland, DeKalb, Rochelle,?Sycamore, Yorkville and Morris in the eastern division.

“We kind of needed to do this,” said Kuffel. “Under the circumstances (leaving the NCIC to join a new conference) was the best option for us.”

Geneseo has not yet formally joined the Northern Illinois Big 12 Conference, however school board members are expected to approve the measure at their July board meeting.

The new conference will allow for 12-team meets in sports such as track, cross country and wrestling, and will also allow for greater competition in non-athletic events, such as Mathletes, said Geneseo officials.

And, while the conference may be new, the competition is not. “DeKalb was a charter NCIC member, and Rochelle was a long-time rival,” said Kuffel, discussing possible football cross-over games.

“On our side of the division, we’re playing all the same schools we already play,” said board member John Puentes.

In the new, 12-school conference, Geneseo will have the smallest school population.

“We’re No. 12 of 12 ... but we have big hearts,” said Kuffel. “The bar has been raised somewhat, but that’s OK.”

School board member Christy Coleman agreed. “We already play the Quad City schools and are able to hold our own.”

The new conference wouldn’t start play until the 2010-11 school year.

Also at the June 11 meeting:

• Board members learned the school district has received a $68,343 grant from the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation to help pay for the installation of a geothermal system at Millikin.