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The State Journal- Register (Springfield, IL)
The idea behind a high school sports co-op is giving student-athletes a chance to participate when their own school can't field a team on its own.
It also gives a school with an existing program a better chance of being competitive. It's especially true in a numbers-driven sport like football, which has seen some schools encounter problems attracting players.
The Western Illinois Valley Conference is a prime example. Seven of the WIVC's 12 football members are co-op programs with at least two schools teaming up.
But given a chance to approve a unique agreement between two private (non-boundaried) schools, Jacksonville Routt and Lutheran, five WIVC schools said no. And that's all it took to shoot down the idea.
Keep in mind, co-op programs don't have lifetime guarantees. They're renewed or discontinued after two years. If issues arose with a Routt-Lutheran co-op after two seasons, the WIVC could have voted it out of existence after the 2019 football season.
But the five "no" voters - Carrollton, Pleasant Hill, White Hall North Greene, Mount Sterling Brown County and Hardin Calhoun - didn't want to wait and see after two years.
Their minds were made up, mostly because of geography and two private schools. But their fears weren't realistic.
Non-boundaried schools are just that: schools that can draw students from a wider area than public schools with fixed geographic boundaries.
Illinois High School Association rules require a student to live within 30 miles of his or her non-boundaried school in order to have full athletic eligibility. Living beyond the 30-mile limit usually means losing one year of eligibility.
So in theory, a Routt-Lutheran football co-op could draw potential players from a big swath cutting across the middle of Illinois. Opponents referred to it as "one of the biggest recruiting bases in the state."
Springfield's population of about 117,000 also was a concern for the no voters. It's a major contrast to WIVC communities which, except for Jacksonville, have populations of a few thousand, tops.
But Lutheran has an enrollment of about 160. Coupled with Routt's 125, a co-op between the Rockets and Crusaders would keep the program in Class 1A or 2A for the playoffs.
WIVC member Routt already has a football co-op with Westfair Christian Academy, a tiny school with fewer than 30 students. Heath Wilson, Routt's athletic director and head football coach, said the Rockets usually have gotten just one player per year from Westfair.
About 15 students showed up at an informational football meeting at Lutheran several months ago, but Wilson said he'd hoped eight or nine would actually make the commitment to make the 60-mile-round-trip bus ride for practices and games in Jacksonville.
Eight or nine doesn't sound like much. But when you've been struggling with 20-some players a year like Routt has in recent years, eight or nine can make a big difference in practices and games.
A few more could even make a junior varsity schedule a possibility, allowing freshmen and sophomores to compete against players their own age and size. Routt hasn't had that luxury.
But in a best-case scenario, how many Lutheran kids - and their parents - make that travel commitment throughout late summer and fall? Routt and Lutheran obviously believe it would be enough to make the co-op worthwhile. But enough to make Routt a WIVC power again? It's doubtful.
And if Routt started running roughshod over the league, the rest of the WIVC membership could always cast "no" votes in two years.
They don't have to worry about that now, although Lutheran principal Glenn Rollins said Tuesday he and Routt principal Nick Roscetti haven't given up on the idea. They hope to contact WIVC school administrators soon.
"We want them to hear a little more from our side," Rollins said. "If they have any questions about what our intent is, we can talk about it.
"We're always trying to find opportunities for students to be involved in something. Right now, 85 to 90 percent of our students are in co-curriculars of some sort. It's important for kids to have those opportunities.
"We don't envision big (college football) signing days here. We're just looking for ways to get kids involved in something. We're not looking for football players."
- Contact Dave Kane: 788-1544, email@example.com, twitter.com/davekaneSJR
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