Well, THAT was unexpected.
The Illinois High School Association (IHSA to its friends) last week chose to release a mock set of groupings for the not-yet-in-effect district scheduling format. That they released anything like this at all this year kind of took me off guard, especially as I seem to remember the IHSA saying shortly after the district format passed by a narrow 324-307 vote late last year that we likely wouldn't see any proposed districts until the 2021 implementation draws nearer.
So, yeah, that was a bit of a surprise.
Then I got to take a closer look at what that district proposal had in store for our area's six remaining IHSA football-playing schools. (Six due to Flanagan-Cornell/Woodland's move to 8-man football next school year.) There were, to put it mildly, more surprises in store.
It should be noted here up front, in big, bold letters that THESE ARE NOT THE ACTUAL DISTRICTS WE WILL SEE IN 2021. The IHSA made as much clear in its release to its member schools, pointing out that these were nothing more than a hypothetical set of districts schools may have ended up in were there district football in Illinois in 2019 — which there most certainly won't be.
In fact, I have my doubts we'll actually see district football in 2021 ... but more on that in my next column (likely in two weeks with the busy sports holiday weekend ahead). It's also important to point out there are multiple schools listed in the mock which won't be participating in 11-man football/won't be part of the district format by the time 2021 arrives.
Hypothetical or not, inevitable or not, I thought we could take a look at those districts our area schools were sort of placed in ... starting this week with our area's smaller football-playing schools, Marquette, Fieldcrest and Seneca:
CLASS 1A NORTH B
The teams: Marquette, South Beloit, Morrison, Mooseheart, Milledgeville, Hiawatha, Fulton, Aurora Christian, Ashton-Franklin Center
The contenders: While Morrison has not in recent years been the powerhouse Crusaders fans may remember from their time in the Big Rivers Conference, making the playoffs only once since it won the 2011 2A state title, it'll be a bear against an all-1A schedule. Fulton, too, is still plenty tough with four playoff appearances over the past five years. Milledgeville is a program on the rise with three straight playoff appearances, and Aurora Christian has been back to its winning ways the past couple years after three playoff-less seasons. The other entries here haven't made much noise in recent years.
The upshot: From the here and now, it looks like a district Marquette should do well in, be challenged in and maybe find the stability the Northeastern Athletic has been unable to provide. Not a bad draw.
CLASS 2A NORTH D
The teams: Fieldcrest, Tremont, Maroa-Forsyth, Dee-Mack, Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley, El Paso-Gridley, Tri-Valley, Ridgeview-Lexington
The contenders: This is a 2A murderers' row, with four schools (Maroa-Forsyth, Dee-Mack, GCMS and Tri-Valley) which have combined to appear in 10 state championship games over the past seven years — winning five of them. Archrivals Fieldcrest and El Paso-Gridley have built consistently good programs, and Tremont and Ridgeview-Lexington have been climbing closer to getting there themselves, but they'd all have their work cut out for them getting a top-four finish in this loaded group.
The upshot: It is essentially taking the top of a loaded Heart of Illinois Conference and replacing the smaller schools with other really good 2A programs. The teams that come out of here should be steeled for a deep postseason run.
CLASS 3A NORTH C
The teams: Seneca, Peotone, Wilmington, Chicago Julian, Chicago Longwood, Chicago Ellison, Chicago Catalyst/Maria and Chicago Carver
The contenders: Even the prep football experts among us (of which I am admittedly not one) have a tough time handicapping Chicago football, and odds look good a lot of the Chicago schools may not participate in district football anyway when the time comes, but I'll give it a shot. Carver has historically been up and down, Julian and Catalyst/Maria appear to hover around .500, Longwood has had four straight losing seasons, and Ellison has been sub-.500 for three straight years. I do, however, know the other two current Interstate Eight Conference programs pretty well. Peotone's been an up-and-down program in recent years, and we all know Wilmington is a small-school powerhouse.
The upshot: I suppose this is an expected and competitive-wise pretty good draw for Seneca. Game schedules and travel plans, if this were actually to come to pass, however, could really be a change from what the Irish faithful are used to.
OK, I'll be back in a week or two (depending on how our area's baseball and softball teams due this three-day weekend) to look at the mock districts for Sandwich, Streator and Ottawa.
Have a great and safe Memorial Day!