BETHANY — The future of the Little Okaw Valley Conference will be determined after 15 schools withdrew from the conference that began play in the 1971-72 season.
At a special conference meeting Tuesday in Arthur, Villa Grove and Heritage were the first schools to submit letters to withdraw from the LOVC. A motion was made by Cumberland to extend the deadline to withdraw from Dec. 1 to Jan. 1, 2018. The motion failed as 14 votes (80 percent) were needed with 12 yes votes, five noes and one abstention.
After that, within the next three days, 11 more schools all submitted their letters of withdrawal to conference president and Okaw Valley principal Matt Shoaff.
"The Little Okaw Valley Conference has a rich history of excellence in academics and athletics. At this time, there is restructuring of the conference and schools are doing what they feel is in the best interest of their students and communities," said Shoaff in a press release.
Villa Grove withdrew due to travel time for students and parents, uncertainty of schools being able to field teams, low attendance at events and lack of natural rivalries, according to a Villa Grove press release.
The following schools have withdrawn from the conference effective June 30, 2019: Arcola, Argenta-Oreana, Arthur-Lovington-Atwood-Hammond, Bement, Blue Ridge, Cerro Gordo, Cumberland, Decatur LSA, Kansas, Oakland, Okaw Valley, Sangamon Valley and Shiloh.
This leaves Palestine, Hutsonville, Martinsville and Oblong in the conference. Should those schools choose to join another conference, the withdrawn schools can keep the LOVC name.
Blue Ridge will begin play as a member of the LOVC starting in all sports except football in 2018-19 and will join in football in 2019-20.
Of the 15 schools, there are 10 football teams: Arcola, Arthur-Lovington-Atwood-Hammond, Argenta-Oreana, Blue Ridge, Cerro Gordo/Bement, Cumberland, Decatur LSA/Decatur Christian, Sangamon Valley/Tri-City, Tri-County (Oakland, Kansas and Shiloh sports co-op) and Villa Grove/Heritage.
Arcola superintendent Tom Mulligan indicated in a press release Monday that several school districts had discussed the possibility of withdrawing from the current conference to form a more stable 10-football team conference. Nothing has been decided on this topic.
Mulligan was clear in saying this did not mean that only 10 schools would be in the conference, but the goal is to have 10 stable football programs (including cooperatives) in the conference.
Of the four schools that are still to be in the LOVC, all four are in the LOVC Southeast Division, and Palestine and Hutsonville co-op is in all sports. Cumberland, Villa Grove/Heritage and Tri-County were members of the SE division as well.
Northwest division members were Arcola, Arthur-Lovington-Atwood-Hammond, Cerro Gordo, Bement, Decatur LSA, Sangamon Valley (except girls basketball), Argenta-Oreana and Okaw Valley.
Palestine-Hutsonville began play in the LOVC in the 2014-15 school year along with Oblong when the conference split into two divisions. Martinsville began play in the LOVC in 2009-10 (in football) and in 2008-09 in all other sports except for tennis, track and golf, who at that time co-oped with Casey-Westfield. Girls tennis is still in a co-op with Casey, and the co-op is set to expire at the end of the school year.
Martinsville principal Jeff Thompson said, "I am in contact with the other three schools and we are working together. We are all in the same kind of boat."
Martinsville's next regular board meeting is Dec. 14, and Thompson said he is sure that it will be discussed then.
"We will have to look at all of the options and see what we have to do," said Thompson. "We could look at joining another conference or going independent. We will see what is out there."
For football, the conference has to have six teams.
The fact that only 2018 is set for now in football means it could be just a one-year Arcola-Tuscola regular football game instead of a two-year deal.