Four schools to leave DuPage Valley Conference

Virginia Aabram, Head News Editor

Four schools are leaving the DuPage Valley Conference (DVC) to form a new athletics and activities conference with four other schools from the Upstate Eight Conference (UEC).  Lake Park, Glenbard North, Wheaton North and Wheaton Warrenville South from the DVC are joining Batavia, Geneva, St. Charles East and St. Charles North from the UEC to create the DuKane Conference, with the changes taking effect in the 2018-2019 school year.  This leaves the DVC with only five remaining schools.

Growing gaps between school enrollment and geographical distance were cited as reasons for the change, but the most pressing matter was football.

“Everyone’s going to tell you that it’s not about football, but it is about football,” Central Athletic Director Andy Lutzenkirchen said.  

Football is the only sport that relies on conference titles to make it into the post-season playoffs.  A team must win six games during the regular season to be guaranteed a spot in the playoffs, and will still have a chance at making post-season with only five wins.  Every other sport moves on to post-season regardless the outcome of the conference championship.

Many other northern Illinois conferences have experienced major upheavals in the last 15 years with the openings of new schools and the closings of others, the most recent example being the addition of Metea Valley, Waubonsie Valley and athletic powerhouse Neuqua Valley to the DVC in 2015.

“There’s been a lot of conference realignment going on, not only in our conference but in the area and in the state,” Lutzenkirchen said. “I think they just felt that the difference in school enrollment sizes was starting to play a factor.”

Enrollment of the Naperville schools all hover around 3,000, with Neuqua nearing 4,000.  In contrast, the schools leaving the DVC are all less than 3,000.  However, despite these differences, the schools are all within the same athletic classes, with most football teams being 7A and Lake Park within the 8A classification.

According to Lutzenkirchen, the DVC has attempted to replenish its rosters over the last eight years by sending letters to every school within a thirty mile radius and a few formal invitations to schools they believe would be more willing to join.  So far no schools have officially affirmed interest in joining the DVC, though there has been speculation.

“Bolingbrook, Oswego and Oswego East appear to be the likely targets,” Daily Herald columnist Kevin Schmit wrote on Nov. 20. “All three make sense for the DVC (if we still call it the DVC) but, like everything else with conference shuffling, it all comes down to the DVC making sense for the three schools.”

Lutzenkirchen is hopeful that they will be able to recruit new members.

“In my opinion, the way the DuPage Valley Conference is run – and it’s not just about athletics – is the finest conference in the state,” Lutzenkirchen said. “Because of the way we all work in collaboration – principals meet, athletic directors meet, activities directors meet – and we set up schedules and we collaborate with each other to try to do what’s best for student athletes and students that compete through activities.”

The Central Times reached out to the athletic directors of Glenbard North, Wheaton North and Wheaton Warrenville South to inquire their reasons for leaving the DVC, but they did not respond for comment.  Lake Park released an official statement citing their reasons for their decision to form a new conference.

“The communities of these school districts will also benefit from the close geographic proximity of the member schools, creating exciting rivalries and spirited environments at conference events,” the statement said.  “In an era of conference unrest that has seen many long-time conferences change, the schools felt the formation of a new eight team conference afforded the greatest opportunity for long-term conference stability.”

It is a very real possibility that the DVC will be unable to find new members before the 2018-2019 school year.  While some sports and activities wouldn’t see much of change, such as cross country, others would find themselves facing the remaining conference schools more often during their season.  It would also mean a longer commute to find schools that are either in other conferences or unaffiliated to fill in the gaps when no schools are available to play within the DVC.  

“We’re very successful as a conference, the five schools,” Lutzenkirchen said. “We do win our share of games which is good, but that’s not our ultimate goal here at Naperville Central.  I would say winning is maybe third or fourth on the list.  But there are some schools that like to win and are used to winning, and I think they have a little bit of a fear that if they come here they might not win as much.”