Proposal 23: What will become of high school football rivalries?

  • Antioch football coach Brian Glashagel is adamantly against Proposal 23, which in 2021 will eliminate conferences and replace them with districts determined by the Illinois High School Association.

      Antioch football coach Brian Glashagel is adamantly against Proposal 23, which in 2021 will eliminate conferences and replace them with districts determined by the Illinois High School Association. Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

 
 

Sometimes the track would get painted.

Sometimes it was the football press box or the baseball dugouts.

Sometimes it was all of the above.

Those were just a few of the shenanigans that may have taken place during the week that Conant played Schaumburg in football.

"It was the late 1980s and Conant-Schaumburg was a huge rivalry, a bitter rivalry," Brian Glashagel said. "There is a lot of history there."

Glashagel played football at Conant in the late '80s and was part of that rivalry madness with fellow Mid-Suburban League foe Schaumburg. Now he's the head football coach at Antioch, and is a part of a spirited Northern Lake County Conference football rivalry with Lakes High School.

Glashagel is worried that conference rivalries in Illinois high school football, the old, spirited and sometimes even bitter rivalries that go back decades and decades, are about to go extinct. And he says that will take away from one of the many things that can make the high school football experience so special.

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Rivalries or Prop 23?

The IHSA recently announced the passage of Proposal 23 by the state's member schools that in 2021 will eliminate the current conferences that exist for football (goodbye Mid-Suburban League, Fox Valley, East Suburban Catholic, North Suburban, Central Suburban, West Suburban, DuPage Valley, Upstate Eight, and all the rest). Instead, newly formed districts that are based on enrollment and geography would be created.

Part of the impetus for this change is to stop the growing trend of schools jumping from one conference to another, leaving their former conferences sometimes in a bind with uneven numbers or a lack of numbers suitable for scheduling.

Another reason to move to districts is to level the playing field so that, for instance, 6A-sized schools aren't in conferences in which they are forced to compete with 8A-sized schools, the largest schools in Illinois.

And while those reasons may seem logical and sensical, there is still resistance.

"I am adamantly against it," Glashagel said of Proposal 23. "It's not good for football and it's not good for the kids. Part of the logic of creating districts is that some conferences are breaking up, so what are we going to do? We're going to break up all of the conferences in the state. All that history and tradition. Ironic."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

More concerns: travel and demographics

Glashagel says he is also turned off by the potential extended travel that districts could create. For smaller schools in the suburbs, Class 5A and below, their nearest potential district foes may be in the far fringe suburbs or beyond. The travel for downstate schools could be even greater.

Demographics and socioeconomics also are factors.

Schools such as Round Lake, with an enrollment of 2,157, is the largest school in the Northern Lake County Conference, but has always been challenged to field full squads in football at all levels due to some of the everyday social and economic challenges faced by its student population.

"I think what conferences do a really good job of is accommodating for demographics," Glashagel said. "When we have schools in our conference that can't field underlevel teams, the other conference teams work with them. You might not get that kind of accommodation in districts. Then, you have the travel. I saw one proposed district where North Chicago was with Stillman Valley. You're going to expect North Chicago to get its sophomore team out to Stillman Valley for a 5 p.m. game on a Friday night? No way.

"I just think so much about this doesn't work."

Barrington coach Joe Sanchez has some of the same concerns as Glashagel.

He grew up playing in the Mid-Suburban League in the early 1990s where the conference rivalry games were the biggest of the season.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"It was all about the natural neighborhood rivalries," Sanchez said. "For us at Wheeling, our two big rivals were Buffalo Grove and Hersey and you knew these guys from junior high, you saw them at restaurants around town. You got up for those conference games because you knew those kids and you knew those teams and you grew up looking forward to playing in those games. There was just something about playing in the Mid-Suburban League."

Would interest in football drop?

Sanchez also worries that the interest in Friday night football games might take a downward turn with districting. Gone will be Barrington's big, crowd-drawing MSL rivalry games between teams such as Palatine and Fremd and instead the Broncos could be playing random teams such as Huntley, Stevenson and Waukegan.

"The tradition isn't there with those other teams and I just don't know if the interest will be either," Sanchez said. "Those neighborhood rivalries were special and they got people excited.

"Also, if you increase travel, that not only increases cost, but I think you are also less likely to bring a crowd and the interest in football is hurt with that as well. This is why I'm not a fan. I value the history and traditions of all the conferences."

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