Villa Grove/Heritage cooperative ending in multiple sports

BROADLANDS — The Villa Grove/Heritage athletic cooperative soon could dissolve entirely, with the Villa Grove Board of Education recently deciding to pull the Blue Devils from multiple sports and others still on the table.

A letter published last Thursday on the Heritage School District No. 8 website indicated Villa Grove and Heritage no longer will form a co-op in boys’ basketball, boys’ basketball cheerleading and baseball after the 2020-21 school year.

The letter also reads that Villa Grove may withdraw from the girls’ basketball portion of the co-op, while future renewals still are up for debate in the football, football cheerleading, cross-country, golf and track and field segments of a co-op that formed in 2013.

“Everyone associated with Heritage High School and our athletics, they’re extremely disappointed with the Villa Grove board’s decision,” Heritage superintendent Tom Davis told The News-Gazette. “The VG/H co-op’s been a great success the past seven years.”

Villa Grove Board of Education’s March 16 regular meeting minutes include a note that “it was agreed that due to low participation by Heritage and various other factors discussed in the previous meeting in February, the Board’s intention is to withdraw from the co-op. The public will be given an opportunity to address the Board at the next regular meeting before a final vote is taken.”

The aforementioned Feb. 18 meeting’s minutes include board president Jim Clark saying “he is in favor of doing what’s best for VG 302 kids. If that means a co-op, great. If that doesn’t mean a co-op, great.”

Also at that meeting, Clark said he “isn’t sure there’s a huge benefit to us going forward after the next school year to remain in the co-op. We have to make a decision either way in the next two or three months, because if we’ve only got one more year, if we’re not going to continue, we need to be letting Heritage know sooner rather than later.”

Villa Grove currently is in the midst of a superintendent change, with Carol Munson taking over on July 1, 2020 after the retirement of Norm Tracy.

Villa Grove athletic director Noreen Acton issued a statement Monday afternoon about the co-op.

“The general consensus was, if we have enough to field a team and provide participation opportunities on our own in basketball and baseball, we should be doing that,” Acton said. “This was supported in our overall community survey.”

Heritage AD Lori Archer deferred to Davis for comment on the matter, which has caused disagreement before among the two schools.

A November 2016 report in The News-Gazette read that “Davis said his district would like the co-op to be a full co-op and include volleyball, common colors and a common mascot. Villa Grove sees things differently, Davis said, and has said they would like to discuss removing sports from the co-op and do not want common colors or a common mascot.”

The VG/H co-op, Davis said, attempts to hold a joint board meeting up to twice a school year. During a September 2019 meeting, he said, “no changes to the agreement were proposed.” A March 4 joint committee meeting was postponed, Davis said, amid Villa Grove’s superintendent search.

“We were informed after their April board meeting … that their half of the committee, for Villa Grove, had proposed to break up boys’ basketball and baseball,” Davis said, with the former’s exclusion from the co-op also ousting boys’ basketball cheerleading. Joint committee meetings followed on April 28 and May 5, Davis said, and included discussion of co-op concerns on both sides.

“It included sharing more games or practices between the school sites, especially with their new gym coming on this year,” said Davis, referencing Villa Grove’s new gymnasium set to open in October. “We also expressed that improvements to their baseball field that had been discussed previously hadn’t been undertaken.”

VG/H’s co-op sports renewals are set on a two-year cycle, with the current two-year span set to expire after the 2020-21 school year.

Also included in the Heritage letter is a request for feedback from those directly involved with and impacted by the school’s athletics. Suggested options to consider are:

— “Explore the fiscal and logistical feasibility of continuing the sports cooperatives as negotiated with Villa Grove, to share VGH football, football cheer, cross-country, golf and track programs between both schools”;

— “Explore the option of hosting all high school sports at Heritage, ending the Heritage cooperative agreement with Villa Grove. This may include program innovations that reflect student interests and district budgeting priorities, such as adding eight-man football and/or fall baseball. It may also involve bringing back cross-country, golf, track, girls’ basketball, boys’ basketball and cheer programs, as student participation allows. Programs that are currently at Heritage only, such as girls’ softball, will continue at Heritage as participation allows.”

The letter requests input be emailed to schoolboard@heritage8.org by Thursday.

“The other disappointing thing is the severance of relationships that I’ve seen between students and athletes of the two schools,” said Davis, pointing to non-athletic activities such as a joint school dance held last February and an annual seat-installation project at the University of Illinois’ Memorial Stadium.

“I was told that 60 percent of (Villa Grove’s) students were in favor of the co-op in a survey they held at some point,” Davis continued. “The cost factor is a big thing, which is something our board, and I’m sure their board, took into consideration.”

Davis said the schools split 50-50 all costs incurred by co-op sports, including bills of $105,000 for football over the last two years, $20,000 in boys’ basketball last season and $12,000 in baseball the previous year.

Davis also is frustrated by the co-op’s uncertainty because he feels results and fan turnout have been strong since it’s formation.

Recent examples Davis offered were VG/H football qualifying for the IHSA postseason in six of its first seven seasons and both boys’ and girls’ basketball winning more than 20 games during the 2019-2020 campaign.

“I’ve appreciated the years of being a successful football co-op,” Davis said. “Our previous one … with Shiloh wasn’t always successful on the field. It wasn’t a bad co-op. It just wasn’t always successful. And it’s not all about winning or losing. It’s about relationships and providing opportunities for kids.”

Among those opportunities, Davis said, are junior varsity and freshman-sophomore sporting events.

He believes those would be much harder to come by were the co-op to fully dissolve, with Villa Grove’s current IHSA enrollment at 197 and Heritage’s at 167.

“A lot of those opportunities are lost, really, at both schools (without the co-op),” Davis said. “I’d be disappointed to see further breakup.”

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