Dwight accepts invitation to join Sangamon Valley Conference

DWIGHT — The Sangamon Valley Conference needed a sixth football school. Dwight High School needed to get away from the growingly suburban environment of the Interstate Eight Conference.

The match made via conference realignment came true Monday night, as the Dwight school board voted 4-1 to accept the SVC’s invitation to join the conference. The Trojans will be a part of the SVC starting in 2014-15.

Dwight High School Principal Dan Kaiser said Monday that he would inform the principals of SVC and Interstate Eight schools of the board’s decision that night.

“This is the first invite we’ve ever had in over 25 years, so we had to quickly come up with a sound bit of evidence and make a good, knowledgeable decision. I think that’s happened tonight,” Kaiser said. “We’ll be looking forward to talking with the members of the Sangamon Valley Conference and hoping that we can bring some of the things that we’ve learned from the Interstate Eight Conference that can help make the SVC that much better.”

The SVC, meanwhile, meets the requirement via IHSA by-laws of six football-playing schools needed for a conference titlist to automatically qualify for the playoffs.

“This is a positive move for the SVC that keeps the conference together,” Paxton-Buckley-Loda High School athletic director John Overstreet said. “With other sports, you can get games. It’s not hard to find games for basketball or volleyball. Football games are much harder to get.”

Dwight and officials from schools in the SVC will meet Wednesday in Gilman to discuss scheduling.

“We’re going to move forward with Dwight and get our schedules,” Overstreet said.

Dwight, a school with an enrollment of 295, was intrigued by the environment of teams in the SVC, according to Kaiser. While schools such as PBL and Iroquois West, with enrollments of 427 and 270, are in rural areas just like Dwight, Interstate Eight schools such as Braidwood Reed-Custer (536 enrollment) and Sandwich (750) have developed into a more suburban environment.

According to Kaiser, Dwight’s enrollment is expected to drop over the next 10 years while the northernmost Interstate Eight schools such as Sandwich and Reed-Custer will get bigger.

“The environment (SVC schools) students are in — rural, not near big cities or suburban areas — that’s where we’re at,” Kaiser said. “I’ve said all along that I want our kids to compete and participate against other kids who live in the same environment that we do. Many schools in the northern part of the Interstate Eight don’t have the same environment as we do anymore. They have bigger facilities. Many of them have two gyms. There’s a lot of those little things that you have to think about.”

It did help Dwight’s decision-making process, Kaiser said, that St. Thomas More and St. Joseph-Ogden recently decided to leave the SVC for the Okaw Valley Conference. Those two schools’ departure, effective in 2014-15, left the SVC in need of at least one more football school.

“That took an 80- and 85-mile trip away from our conference schedule should we go that route,” Kaiser said. “That helped our decision because I don’t think we would have been thinking as much about it had they still been in in the conference because I think that travel issue was going to be a big factor.”

With the Sabers and Spartans out of the picture, Kaiser estimated Dwight’s travel — covering all extra-curricular and co-curricular activities — would be just 2.6 miles more with an SVC schedule as opposed to with the 12-team Interstate Eight. The distance from PBL to Dwight is about 60 miles.

That statistic, among others, was presented in a meeting last Wednesday by Kaiser to the fans and to Dwight’s school board via mock schedules.

“That was something we had to make clear to everyone in our community so they knew that travel wasn’t a factor,” Kaiser said. “That was something we had question marks about. If St. Thomas More and St. Joseph-Ogden were still in, we’d be thinking a little bit differently.”

Principals from Interstate Eight schools told Kaiser they understand Dwight’s wishes to search for other opportunities.

“The Interstate Eight knows that there was a good chance that we’d be moving, that the vote would pass and carry tonight,” Kaiser said. “I don’t think it was a secret to anyone that this might be a decent move for us based on our enrollment and where we’re heading with our enrollment over the next eight years.

“I give credit to all the Interstate Eight principals I talked to. They’ve all stated that they totally understand that we’re making choices based on what’s best for our kids. No one can deny that. If you’re making choices that are in the best interests of students, I don’t think you can go wrong, and that’s what we’ve done here.”

Kaiser said fans’ concerns about the continuance of old rivalries with Reed-Custer and Coal City can take solace in non-conference games against such schools. While he said the tradition Dwight has with the Interstate Eight should be honored, Kaiser said the move to the SVC was necessary for the sports program to move forward properly.

“There’s a long tradition with the Interstate Eight, so that’s a big factor, and we honor that,” Kaiser said. “But the facts are that we have to think about the tradition for our kids coming in and what the enrollment figures are and the fact that we’re not getting any bigger and many of those schools in the Interstate Eight still are. That discrepancy and environment difference is just going to keep getting bigger.”

On the other hand, the addition of Dwight means the SVC can keep old rivalries together.

“PBL’s glad that Dwight decided to join so we can keep the old rivalries with Watseka and other schools that we’ve had for several decades,” Overstreet said.

According to Kaiser, Dwight is no stranger to SVC competition.

“We play Clifton Central, Momence, Iroquois West and some of those teams already,” Kaiser said. “Our junior league football team plays those teams, and they play Watseka. They play five of the six teams in junior league football, so our kids are actually familiar with those kids already.”

Jeff Graham, PBL’s head football coach, said he is glad to see the SVC intact with the addition of Dwight.

“I think it’s good,” Graham said. “Football-wise, it adds to an already strong conference. The SVC is still intact, which is a good thing, especially when  you see teams changing conferences and conference folding and things like that.”

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