Last of Old NCIC Guard to Leave
Mendota joins Big Northern Conference for 2011-12 season ...
By Cody Cutter
Northern Illinois Sports Beat Publisher

MENDOTA -
For the first time since Herbert Hoover was President of the United States,
Mendota High School will be part of a high school athletic conference other than the NCIC.

The Big Northern Conference extended an invitation to Mendota on Thursday to join its
conference's West division in all sports except football. The Mendota High School Board
of Education accepted it on Monday.

Mendota, along with Belvidere, DeKalb, Dixon, Rochelle and Sterling formed the North
Central Illinois Conference in 1929. They are the last of the original schools to leave.

The move leaves IVC, Princeton and St. Bede left in the conference rotation in all sports
but football. Mendota will compete in the West Central Conference in football after this
year.

“It's a great opportunity for our kids. They're in a conference that have outstanding
reputations athletically and academically,” Mendota athletics director and football coach
John McKinzie said. “There are also fine arts opportunities for our kids that we haven't
had with the NCIC breaking up. It's an opportunity to build rivalries for the schools. To
belong and get into a conference with this magnitude is pretty special for our school.”

The Big Northern has two divisions with six schools in each division: Burlington Central
(1,076), Byron (567), Genoa-Kingston (632), Hampshire (1,042), Harvard (687), Marengo
(869), North Boone (542), Oregon (534), Richmond-Burton (783), Rockford Lutheran
(653.4 with multiplier, 396 without),  Stillman Valley (613) and Winnebago (566).
Hampshire will leave for the Fox Valley after this year. All schools are somewhat near
Mendota's enrollment of 617.

Mendota and Princeton have been in talks with the Big Northern for a couple of years.
The Big Northern schools declined to invite both schools, as a pair, since then. However,
Thursday's invitation gave Mendota a huge sigh of relief.

“We're very relieved and very thankful that they kind of bailed us out from a situation
we're in,” added McKinzie. “We were in a tough spot, and it came down to crunch time.”

As far as travel is concerned, Mendota is 40 miles south of Oregon, the current southern-
most Big Northern School. However, fellow NCIC school Rock Falls (39 miles northwest of
Mendota, 29 southwest of Oregon) will be joining the Big Northern next year as well, so
they will not feel as if they're the odd school out as far as distance. Mendota and Rock
Falls have enjoyed a conference rivalry dating back to 1942.

Thirty-five miles separates Oregon from Rockford Lutheran up north, the longest such
distance between two current schools in the BNC West. Byron, Stillman Valley and
Winnebago are located between these schools. Genoa-Kingston, a current member of the
West division, will switch to the East division as a result of Rock Falls joining.

The Big Northern is no stranger to distant schools participating in its conference. Ottawa
Marquette was a member during the 1990s.

While travel is a key concern in the process of switching conference affiliations, McKinzie
believes those who look at distance as the chief concern are looking at it “from the wrong
perspective.”

“We've been pretty fortunate to be in the middle of the conference, as far as the NCIC
was concerned,” McKinzie said. “The options out there really dictated that the Big
Northern was probably the best choice for us. Is it a little longer than the NCIC was, yeah.
Could it be worse? Oh heck yeah.

“In the West division, pretty much every travel would be an hour, or a little bit less. In
today's era of conferences, for schools our size, it's not bad travel. Is a crossover game
with Richmond-Burton a lengthy travel? Certainly. But we may only be making that trip
once or twice in two or three years. I don't think the travel is as bad.”

McKinzie's football team will be traveling a lot more than the other sports. The Trojans will
make a couple of long-distance West Central crossover games next year, including an
over-four-hour one-way trip to Pittsfield. Talks to bring the football team to the Big
Northern fold were not discussed, as it would create scheduling difficulty being the
seventh school.

“I'm sure one of the things that stands out in their mind of the odd school. Football is such
a tough scheduling sport,” McKinzie said. “We've already made our commitment to the
West Central Conference, and we're fine with that.”

Mendota has competed in the IHSA State Tournament in baseball, boys basketball, girls
basketball and volleyball in the past 20 years. The Spikers, the volleyball program, was
one of the state's powerhouses during the 1970s and 1980s, and is the current leader of
this year's NCIC volleyball season (with a three-game win over Rock Falls on Tuesday).

McKinzie is amazed about the quality of competition the Big Northern offers for the
school's athletic programs.

“They're a tremendous conference. They're strong up and down the line in a number of
sports,” McKinzie said. “It's a prestigious conference. Year-in and year-out when you're
looking at IHSA state final competition, the Big Northern has a team playing in there
somewhere.”

One of the area's most decorated athletic schools, Mendota has won 69 Regional
championships, 35 Sectional championships and 12 state tournament trophies of fourth
place of better (eight coming in volleyball) in school history, but has not won a state
championship.  

The Big Northern, in the last decade, has seen its member schools combine for 50 state
trophies of fourth place or better and 20 state championships (10 by Winnebago cross
country alone), including four in football. The other six were won by Byron golf (2007),
Winnebago girls bowling (2007), Lutheran girls soccer (2007), Winnebago boys soccer
(2008), Oregon boys track (2009) and Byron girls track (2010).

“Harvard's volleyball team was in volleyball (state) last year, Stillman Valley won the
(football) title, Winnebago in basketball. Byron's been there before,” McKinzie said. “It's
great competition, and the thing we really like is that the enrollment of all of the schools is
very similar.”
 
Cody Cutter is Publisher of Northern Illinois Sports Beat. He can be reached at
Northernillinoissportsbeat@yahoo.com. --- Talk about what's written on our
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