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The State Journal- Register (Springfield, IL)
The Western Illinois Valley Conference has 12 football members, seven of which are co-ops involving two or more schools.
But there wasn't enough support among the WIVC membership to add another co-op on Wednesday.
Heath Wilson, athletic director and football coach at WIVC member Jacksonville Routt Catholic High School, said that a proposed Routt-Lutheran football co-op did not receive a sufficient number of "yes" votes at a conference meeting on Wednesday.
Wilson, who attended the meeting, said six schools voted in favor of the co-op and five voted against. Wilson said conference rules required seven votes for approval. He said his school did not vote but if it had, eight votes — a two-thirds majority — would have been required for approval.
"I'm shocked," Wilson said Wednesday. "I felt real confident going into it, and the conference has never not approved a co-op.
"I went emails and letters to the (WIVC) schools the last few months. I told them if there were any concerns, to let me know. I didn't hear anything. So today was surprising."
Lutheran athletic director Katie McCulley, whose school approached Routt about the co-op idea last fall, declined comment on Wednesday.
Wilson said the schools voting against the co-op were White Hall North Greene, Pleasant Hill, Carrollton, Hardin Calhoun and Mount Sterling Brown County.
One individual whose school voted against the co-op was Brown County coach Tom Little. He said his concern mainly involved the potential "recruiting base."
With Lutheran and Routt being non-boundaried (private) schools, Little said a Routt/Lutheran co-op could draw potential players from an area extending from east of Springfield to west of Jacksonville. Springfield's population (117,000) also was a factor, Little said.
"To have a team with a potential recruiting area they would have, it didn't feel like a good move for (Brown County) as a school," said Little, whose 184-enrollment school does not co-op for football.
"We'd love for Lutheran and Routt to have football, but you just shouldn't put them together. With our no vote, we're just trying to do the right thing for Brown County kids and other small schools."
Those voting for the co-op were Camp Point Central, Greenfield, Mendon Unity, Concord Triopia, Winchester West Central and Beardstown.
Routt, with an enrollment of approximately 125 students, has struggled to get an adequate number of players to come out for football in recent years. The entire program — including freshmen — has had between 20 and 30 players.
The lack of depth has coincided with struggles on the field. The Rockets have gone a combined 8-46 the last six years and haven't reached the playoffs since 2011. The school's enrollment was about the same (in the high 120s) seven years ago.
Routt has had a football co-op with Jacksonville Westfair Academy (enrollment 29) the past five years. But Wilson said Routt usually has gotten only one player from Westfair on an annual basis.
Lutheran (enrollment 160) has not participated in football — on its own or in a co-op — in school history. Lutheran players would have had to travel to Jacksonville for practices and games.
Wilson said he was hoping to get "six to nine" players from Lutheran for the coming season.
Wilson said the argument about a wide, heavily-populated recruiting base was unrealistic.
"They said Springfield was a large area to draw from," Wilson said. "One of them said we could end up getting (Lutheran students) who lived someplace like Williamsville.
"I'm thinking, 'Would a kid be willing to travel from Williamsville to Lutheran every day, then go 30 more miles to practice in Jacksonville? I think a kid like that would just play at Williamsville."
Wilson said the co-op would have been a two-year agreement, so the WIVC could have voted against continuing the co-op if problems had developed the first two seasons.
A frustrated Wilson said the rejected co-op could mean continued struggles for the Rockets.
"Today, it almost felt like, 'With Routt, you can get your easy win,'" said Wilson, noting that five wins are needed to make the playoffs. "We're trying to save or program here.
"We'll get by next year. But we only have 10 boys coming in (as freshmen) from our feeder school, Our Saviour, next fall."
Little disputed Wilson's comment about the pursuit of wins.
"I know coaches talk about that fifth win," Little said. "But the playoffs aren't the be-all, end-all to what your season should be about."
Contact Dave Kane: 788-1544, firstname.lastname@example.org, twitter.com/davekaneSJR.
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