Bureau Valley eyes Lincoln Trail Conference

Storm applies for membership, would accept invitation

Bureau Valley’s Cooper Balensiefen goes to the hoop Thursday, June 15, 2023 during the Sauk Valley Media All-Star Basketball Classic at Sauk Valley College.

MANLIUS - Bureau Valley High School has taken the first step to find a potential new conference home.

The Bureau Valley school board at its Wednesday meeting approved the administration’s request to apply to the Lincoln Trail Conference and to accept membership if approved.

Bureau Valley superintendent Jason Stabler said the Storm has been exploring opportunities to better serve their student-athletes in the wake of the smaller schools already leaving the Three Rivers Conference and their continued declining enrollment.

“It’s something we’ve been looking at in open session for several months, Stabler said. “With Morrison leaving the conference, it escalated those feelings. We don’t want to be last small school [left]. Some of those schools who have left are original members of the TRAC.

“With the dynamics changing and some of the larger schools coming in, we wanted to take a look at it. Plus, our enrollments will be in the 250s the next five years. We want to give our kids the best experience possible.”

In the past six years, three schools - Amboy in 2017, Fulton in 2021 and St. Bede in 2023 - have left the Three Rivers. Morrison will follow next year, moving to the Northwest Upstate Illini Conference to be reunited with Amboy and Fulton.

“It’s something we’ve been looking at in open session for several month. With Morrison leaving the conference, it escalated those feelings. We don’t want to be last small school [left].”

—  Jason Stabler, BV superintendent

The Three Rivers has 13 members with St. Bede’s return to the Tri-County Conference this school year. Aledo Mercer County, presently a member of the Lincoln Trail, is ticketed to join the Three Rivers for the 2024-25 season, potentially trading places with Bureau Valley.

Bureau Valley, which formed in 1995-96, has been a member of the Three Rivers since 1999, playing its first four years as an independent.

Stabler said Bureau Valley’s potential move is in the hands of the Lincoln Trail administrators and anticipates a response by the end of next week.

“It’s in their court now. Their 13 schools would have to approve it.”

If approved for membership, Stabler said the Storm would make the move to the Lincoln Trail for the 2024-25 school year.

“It was a tough decision. We love the TRAC and everything it’s brought to us. When you look at enrollments in our side of the division (East), it’s pushing 500, so it’s almost twice the size we project to be. As more schools leave, who are you going to bring in? They’re all going to be bigger.”

Bureau Valley also looked at the NUIC, but Stabler said it appears to be set with Morrison’s addition. He said when the Lincoln Trail reached out to them after Mercer County’s announced departure, it proved to be the way to go.

Bureau Valley Storm

The Lincoln Trail, Stabler said, would provide the same extracurriculars currently available to the BV students. Bureau Valley is familiar with many of the Lincoln Trail schools and plays nonconference games with them.

Presently, there are 13 members of the Lincoln Trail. They are, with their enrollments - Abingdon-Avon (269), Annawan (92), Biggsville West Central (212), Cambridge Ridgewood (237), Galva (129), Knoxville (328), Mercer County (376), Monmouth United (246), Princeville (210), ROWVA-Williamsfield (275), Stark County (222) and Wethersfield (143).

With Mercer County’s departure, the Lincoln Trail would have an average enrollment of 215, with Annawan the smallest at 92 and Knoxville the largest at 328.

The Lincoln Trail has merged with the Prairieland Conference to form a new football league this fall divided into “small school” and “large school” divisions. Enrollments range from 175 (Astoria South Fulton) to 275 (ROWVA-Williamsfield) in the small school division to 140 (Hamilton) to 584 (Macomb) in the large school side.