The Burlington-based Central Community School District 301 board of education voted unanimously Tuesday night to accept an invitation from the Fox Valley Conference for Central High School to become the FVC's 10th member school for academic and athletic activities beginning with the 2019-20 school year.
"The Fox Valley Conference is pleased to welcome Burlington Central High School as the 10th member of the conference, beginning in the 2019-2020 school year," said Hampshire High School principal and FVC Prinicpals Group President Brett Bending in an emailed statement Tuesday night.
"The conference voted unanimously to invite BCHS to the FVC at a meeting of its member principals on December 13, 2017. The Central Unit School District 301 Board of Education approved the move at its meeting on January 16, 2018. Adding a 10th team will make scheduling easier for schools and strengthens the conference's foundation in the Fox Valley area.
"Burlington Central High School makes total sense to be an FVC school based on location and the pace at which they are growing, which only makes the conference stronger. The future is bright in the FVC. This addition will only enhance our reputation throughout the state for strong play in state series, high-quality extracurricular offerings, and innovative instructional practices.
"In 2015, the nine pre-existing members of the conference all approved a resolution agreeing to remain within the conference until at least 2020."
Tuesday's vote by the 301 board did not come before some considerable input and, from some, concern.
"The three points we were looking at were conference stability, travel and competitive balance," said CHS principal Christopher Testone, who along with athletic director Steve Diversey, made the recommendation to the board in December to accept the FVC's invitation.
The conference move became necessary when the Kishwaukee River Conference schools voted 5-1 in June to kick BC out of the KRC, which was just formed in 2016-17 with Central, Woodstock, Woodstock North, Marengo, Richmond-Burton, Harvard and Johnsburg as its charter members. Burlington's expected growth was central to the KRC schools wanting the Rockets out. With a current enrollment of 1,049 projected to exceed 1,300 in the next few years, BC is the largest school in the KRC and it won the KRC Cup for having the most athletic success in 2016-17. Johnsburg was the only school that voted against the move.
"We did not anticipate getting booted out (of the KRC) after two years," Testone said.
BC will be the smallest school in the FVC, even if it enrollment projections come true and the school approaches 1,300 students by the time it joins the FVC. The FVC's current enrollments include Huntley at 2,996; Dundee-Crown at 2,476; McHenry at 2,226; Jacobs at 2,122; Cary-Grove at 1,731; Hampshire at 1,588; Crystal Lake Central at 1,545; Crystal Lake South at 1,524 and Prairie Ridge at 1,457.
Mike Schmidt, a 1987 Central graduate who has been a teacher and coach at the school for the past 26 years, addressed the board after conducting a survey of the Rockets' 13 head varsity coaches -- a survey that indicated the majority of the school's coaches are skeptical about joining the FVC's current non-divisional format, but would be more in favor if the FVC would consider going to divisions based on enrollment. Schmidt pointed out that five schools -- Johnsburg, Grayslake Central, Grayslake North, Woodstock and Woodstock North -- have left the FVC in the past 3-4 years with some of the reasoning for leaving based on their smaller enrollments.
"The FVC has been divorced by five schools in the last three years," Schmidt said. "I don't think it's unreasonable if we're looking for a marriage to ask for a prenup."
But making a demand of that nature would have required the board to table the Tuesday vote and District 301 superintendent Todd Stirn pointed out that doing so could cause the FVC to withdraw the invitation.
Burlington Central's conference history has been a model of stability. The school joined the Little Eight Conference in 1958. The LEC became the Big Eight in 1980 and BC remained in that conference until it disband in 1991, at which time Central became a charter member of the Big Northern Conference, where the Rockets remained until becoming a charter member of the KRC in 2016.
Stability became the overriding factor in accepting the invitation to the FVC, despite the fact Central will by far be the smallest school in the conference.
The school also considered an invitation from the Northern Illinois Big XII, but that league's recent breakup has left only five schools in the league -- Kaneland, DeKalb, Sterling, Sycamore and Yorkville.
Testone and Diversey met with the remaining five schools in the NI Big XII last Friday and while they appreciated the interest, they felt in the end the FVC's stability was important in their decision to accept the FVC's invitation.
"Travel in the FVC is far beneficial to us than the KRC," Testone said. "It's very difficult to predict competitive balance long term but I asked Steve Diversey to gather data on how we've done when we've played schools from those two conferences and we're about .500 either way.
"In terms of stability, we appreciate both conferences interest in us but the stability issue in the Northern Illinois Big XII really concerns us. If Sterling or Yorkville decide to go a different direction we'd be right back here in front of the board again."
Diversey said at Friday's meeting with the five remaining NI Big XII schools, a five-year contract was being discussed but he said officials from Sterling and Yorkville had no response when asked if they would commit to five years.
Diversey and Testone both acknowledged that whatever decision was made, the Rockets' athletic programs are in for a step up in competition.
"In every sport it's going to be a challenge," Diversey told the board. "The competitiveness will increase in all sports either way."
"Both conferences are a drastic step up in terms of competition," Testone added.
Board vice president Janet Marlovits expressed the greatest concern of any board member, but in the end she voted to accept the FVC's invitation.
"I have quite the concern with the enrollment numbers in the Fox Valley Conference," she said. "I'm very concerned about the FVC because of the size."
Geographically, Burlington Central is in a 50-50 situation. While trips to Kaneland, DeKalb and Sycamore would be relatively close, Sterling is 75 miles from BC one way. The furthest FVC school from Central is McHenry, which is 30 miles one way.
The FVC was formed in 1978 and while it has had some changes in recent years, it has remained one of the more stable conferences around. As it approaches its 40th anniversary, the FVC has remained steady with Cary-Grove, Crystal Lake Central, Crystal Lake South, Dundee-Crown (originally Dundee and Crown until they merged in 1983), Jacobs and McHenry remaining from the league's inception.
The FVC was at 13 schools until 2016-17 when Grayslake Central and Grayslake North left for the newly formed Northern Lake County Conference and Woodstock and Woodstock North left for the Kishwaukee River.
Hampshire was the last new school to join the FVC, in 2011-12.