Princeton takes a stance to uphold Three Rivers Conference by-laws

PHS will no longer play Bureau Valley, St. Bede because ‘they did not give 2-year notice’ to leave Three Rivers

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Thursday’s regional semifinal game between Bureau Valley and Princeton was a good representation of what the Bureau County rivalry has meant for the past 28 years.

It was highly contested on the floor and much anticipated in the stands.

Just like the 2002 boys basketball sectional game in a packed Storm Cellar and the regional final contests in 2003 and 2015 as well as games in all other sports over the years.

It also was the last time the two rivals will meet for the foreseeable future on the hardwood.

Princeton has taken the stance it will no longer schedule Bureau Valley in any sport after this school year as a matter of principle.

Bureau Valley will be leaving the Three Rivers Conference at the end of the school year, opting to join the Lincoln Trail Conference next season. It made the announcement on Aug. 12, 2023, having been transparent to the rest of the Three Rivers since the fall of 2022 that it was exploring all opportunities, including the Three Rivers and other conferences.

“They all did not honor the two-year commitment that’s in the by-laws ... It wasn’t so much them leaving, they left before their agreement said they could leave.”

—  Jeff Ohlson, PHS athletic director

Princeton took the same stance with Amboy, Fulton and St. Bede, which previously left the Three Rivers Conference, as well as Morrison, which is leaving at the end of the school year, for not abiding by the conference bylaws that require a two-year notice to leave the Three Rivers.

Amboy was the first to leave the Three Rivers in 2016 and Fulton followed in 2021.

St. Bede announced its intentions to leave the Three Rivers in November 2022 to return to the Tri-County this school year. Morrison accepted the offer to join the NUIC on May 14, 2023 and Bureau Valley announced last August it would leave to join the Lincoln Trail next year.

None of the schools honored the Three Rivers bylaws, Princeton athletic director Jeff Ohlson said.

“They all did not honor the two-year commitment that’s in the by-laws,” he said. “We’re being consistent for what we’ve done with other schools. If you honor your two-year agreement, we’re probably going to play you. It wasn’t so much them leaving, they left before their agreement said they could leave.

“We didn’t pick Bureau Valley to start with. Amboy didn’t honor the two-year commitment. Fulton didn’t honor the two-year commitment. Morrison and Bureau Valley at the same time didn’t honor the two-year commitment. We’ve elected not to schedule them.

“If they want to play, we already had two guaranteed games built in (in the Three Rivers).”

Mendota has adopted a similar policy with St. Bede in terms of not playing nonconference games once the Bruins left the Three Rivers.

While disappointed in losing the rivalry with Princeton, Bureau Valley superintendent Jason Stabler said the Storm have moved on.

“Watching (Tuesday’s regional) game, that was an awful good experience. We’ve enjoyed the rivalry and had a lot of tremendous games between the two schools,” he said. “It’s always enjoyable. It’s a close game (in terms of distance) and the gyms are always packed. And I think the kids like playing each other because they know each other and see each other a lot. It’s just a fun atmosphere for the communities.

“That’s been what their (PHS) policy has been with other schools. We respect their decision. We’re going to continue to move forward and look forward to postseason play where we may get an opportunity to play them.”

Princeton was an original member of the St. Bede girls basketball tournament dating back to the mid-1980s, but withdrew after nearly a 40-year run in favor of playing at Ottawa this year.

St. Bede was not invited back to the Princeton girls tournament this year after joining it a year ago. Bureau Valley is not being brought back to the Princeton tournament next year.

The Princeton cross country program will no longer compete in the local and competitive invitationals at Bureau Valley and Amboy, but will be exploring other opportunities, Ohlson said.

“We’re always looking to make changes to our schedules every year with what the coaches kind of want to do,” Ohlson said. “Our coaches knew this could become a reality.”

As a longtime follower and fan of these schools, who has seen the excitement especially of the Tigers-Storm rivalry over the years, and someone who greatly respects all parties involved, I would encourage Princeton school officials to reconsider their position after a year’s time.

Let’s give the Bureau County fans what they want. Fill those stands and give those athletes a big rival just like they’ve been doing since 1995-96.

Kevin Hieronymus has been the BCR Sports Editor since 1986. Contact him at khieronymus@bcrnews.com