STREATOR — For the third time in the past decade, the Streator High School board of education has voted to leave its current conference.
Streator — one of eight current Interstate Eight Conference members expected to withdraw from the I-8 over a two-week period this month — did exactly that Tuesday evening, following the recommendation of principal Amy Jo Mascal by a unanimous, 7-0 vote at its regular monthly board meeting. Streator will remain a member of the Interstate Eight through the 2018-19 school year.
"Tonight we are really just recommending that we withdraw from the I-8 Conference," Mascal told the board Tuesday in the school library. "Primarily, that's the first step in giving us flexibility to think about what our next step is."
Three of the eight schools expected to officially withdraw from the Interstate Eight and form a new, eight-team conference beginning in 2019-20 have already held their September board meetings — Wilmington, which voted to leave on September 13, Herscher which did so Monday and Streator on Tuesday. In the next week, the other five will meet and are expected to vote on the issue — Reed-Custer this Wednesday, Lisle and Peotone on September 25 (the latter having rescheduled its board meeting from an original date of September 18), Manteno on the 26th and finally Coal City on September 27.
Should all eight vote to leave by the close of the month as expected and with Seneca already committed to leave the I-8 at the close of this current school year for the Sangamon Valley (football, wrestling) and Tri-County (all other sports and activities) conferences, Plano, Sandwich and Westmont would be the only three remaining, non-lame duck members of the Interstate Eight.
"There have been a lot of discussions, a lot of phone calls," Mascal told the board as to the events immediately following the morning late last month when seven form emails were sent to the other members of the I-8 informing them of Coal City's, Lisle's, Manteno's, Reed-Custer's, Herscher's, Peotone's and Wilmington's intent to look outside the I-8. "As you know, we have been in discussions with those other seven schools, but no decisions have been made. Like I said, this is the first step in giving us the flexibility to explore the options moving forward.
"Primarily, we do not want to be sitting there in a conference with our hands tied with three other schools (while) everyone else has moved forward and has had discussions. We just wanted to be out in the open, let the current conference know that (Streator has been invited to join with the seven) and be able to move forward and bring to you what we feel is a great recommendation moving forward.
"What that is right now, we don't know."
Both Mascal and superintendent Matt Seaton expressed that their preference, given a choice, would be to maintain the Interstate Eight Conference in its current configuration and continue searching for a replacement for departing Seneca. With that seeming increasingly unlikely, "We are being reactive, not proactive," Mascal said, "and moving forward, doing our best to figure out where we fit best."
While both referred to this as only the first step in the process and stressed that no ultimate league destination for Streator has been decided upon, Mascal referred to the as-yet-unnamed, proposed league as one that "seems to be the best option," and Seaton said it "would logically be a place for us to land."
"We," said Seaton, "have a reasonable expectation that the I-8 is going to implode, for lack of a better word. They will disband or it will form into a conference that is unlike (what it is) right now. We have been involved with the other seven just recently in conversations to be included with them as an eighth participant in a conference and then become a conference of eight schools.
"That would logically be a place for us to land ... (and) we don't have another option on the table."
The board members who will ultimately decide Streator's conference fate inquired mostly about the timing and motivations of the Interstate Eight breakup, with Willy Williamson and Steve Biroschik the most vocal. From what was said in open session, the board and administration seemed agreeable to the proposed eight-team league.
"I guess I'm waiting to see what you guys' recommendation is," said Biroschik. "I know what I'm feeling, but I want to know what you're feeling, you and the AD. ... (These teams are) a known entity."
"I think," Seaton said in response, "it's safe to say our preference is to stay with as many of the I-8 schools as possible."