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updated: 8/15/2014 4:33 PM

Grant High votes to join new athletic conference despite coaches' opposition

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A proposal for Grant High School to drop out of the North Suburban Conference is being criticized by youth athletic coaches who said the move will make the Bulldogs less competitive.

About 20 coaches who attended a Grant High School District 124 meeting Thursday said district leaders are doing a disservice to student-athletes by leaving the more competitive NSC made up of larger Lake County schools for a new, yet-to-be-named conference made up of schools with smaller enrollments.

Coaches representing local baseball, football, basketball and wrestling programs told officials the move will help Grant take home more conference championship trophies but will hurt students trying to draw collegiate scouts and when they have to line up against larger, more competitive schools in state playoffs.

"We have been working for quite a few years to make our programs competitive with these larger schools," said John Jared, vice president of football operations for the Grant Jr. Bulldogs. "When you routinely play larger programs running at a high competitive level, you get better."

Despite the complaints, District 124 officials voted unanimously Thursday to drop out of the NSC at the start of the 2016-17 school year.

The new conference would be made up of teams from Antioch, Lakes, Round Lake, Wauconda, Grayslake and North Chicago high schools. School boards from those districts have joined or are expected to join the new conference at future board meetings.

The move leaves the NSC with teams from Libertyville, Stevenson, Vernon Hills, Lake Forest, Warren, Mundelein, Lake Zurich and Zion-Benton high schools.

Grant school officials said they chose to end the 14-year relationship with the NSC to create a more level athletic playing field and more activities for students outside of sports.

"We will continue to play the larger schools like Stevenson and Libertyville at tournament matches and nonconference games," Superintendent Christine Sefcik said. "Those matchups just would not take place as a conference matchup."

Sefcik said 811 of the 1,950 students enrolled at Grant are involved in programs offered through the NSC. There would be an estimated 1,590 openings for students when the new conference begins in 2016, she said.

That organization would feature more conference-wide co-curricular activities not offered through the NSC, Sefcik said. For example, she said, conference championships would be available for academic teams, such as debate, math, and speech.

Athletically, she said, the Fox Lake-area high school has won 12 conference championships since joining the NSC in the 2000 school year. Grant's high-powered wrestling program won seven of those championships, she said.

By joining the new conference, Grant would have a better opportunity to win more championships and play in more state playoffs, she said.

"I believe this is the best decision for our students in the long run," Sefcik said.

The Lake County-based NSC consists of two seven-school divisions. Antioch, Grant, Lakes, North Chicago, Round Lake, Vernon Hills and Wauconda comprise the Prairie Division, while Lake Forest, Lake Zurich, Libertyville, Mundelein, Stevenson, Warren and Zion-Benton make up the Lake Division.

Grayslake High School District 127 and Wauconda Unit District 118 announced the formation of the new conference this month after expansion talks within the NSC broke down. Grayslake North and Central had been playing in the Fox Valley Conference, made up primarily of teams in McHenry County.

In a joint statement, school board officials said the goal was to create "a high quality athletic conference" that includes a "strong emphasis on student growth in all areas." It also said discussions were under way to create new shared student opportunities in areas spanning academics, fine arts, student activities, student leadership and community service.

Round Lake Area District 116 is expected to join the new conference Monday.

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