JOLIET – Joliet Township High School athletes and fans have good reason to be excited.
The Southwest Prairie Conference Board of Control voted Monday to accept Joliet Central and Joliet West into the conference. That will take effect in the 2016-17 school year.
The Southwest Prairie consists of Minooka, Romeoville, Plainfield Central, Plainfield South, Plainfield North, Plainfield East, Oswego and Oswego East. Adding Joliet Central and West will form a 10-team conference.
The Joliet schools are members of the SouthWest Suburban Conference and are founding members of that league. Most other SWS members are east of the immediate Joliet area.
“From a travel standpoint and a local standpoint, this all makes a lot of sense,” said Chris Olson, Joliet Township director of activities and athletics. “With the improvements to Route 59 and the distance that we will have to travel, this is where we should be.”
The Joliet schools are somewhat larger than most SPC schools, but Olson said that was not a negative.
“The Oswego schools are growing and the Plainfield schools were growing, although that has leveled off now,” he said.
“The big thing is the local element. Kids will be playing against kids they grew up playing with and against. It will be good for our fan base, too. We have not had good attendance at many of our away events in the SouthWest Suburban.”
When rumors circulated that this change was forthcoming, some assumed the opportunity for the Joliet schools to compete on a more-level playing field in football was a factor.
“No, it’s really not about football,” Olson said. “Obviously we have had struggles competing with some teams in football in the SouthWest Suburban, but I don’t think that had anything to do with this. The travel, that’s what is huge.”
While football schedules have not been set for 2016, playing a round-robin of nine conference games would be ideal and probably will be discussed, Olson said. “That way, everybody would not have to be searching for games in Week One and Two,” he said.
Coaches at West and Central have met with Olson, “and they’re excited about this, especially from the travel standpoint. We had a good number of fans at the West [football] playoff game at Oswego, and that will be our farthest trip. I absolutely think that will help. Our kids will get home from road games earlier.”
The SouthWest Suburban bylaws would have allowed the Joliet schools to leave next school year, but Olson said, “We wanted to give them time. Giving them a year and a half was the right thing to do.”
Before the Southwest Prairie principals voted to admit Joliet Central and West, the SPC athletic directors also voted in favor.
“These are the schools that we play, anyway, when we’re not in conference games,” Olson noted. “They’re often the schools that we go against in regionals and sectionals in various sports – so from that standpoint, it’s attractive.
“It’s almost a perfect match,” Olson added. “We’re very excited, and they’re excited, too. With them playing Joliet schools regularly, they know they will get even better [media] coverage. We also have awesome facilities to offer with the two lighted, turf fields and the field houses at each school.”