Plano High School, the lone remaining charter member of the Interstate 8 Conference since its formation in 1979, is leaving the league to join the Kishwaukee River Conference beginning with the 2023-24 school year.
Plano is joining Sandwich, which announced its switch in December, in moving to what will be an eight-team conference that also includes Woodstock, Woodstock North, Harvard, Marengo, Richmond-Burton and Johnsburg.
“Everybody has their opinion, but from my perspective this move is putting our student-athletes in position to be competitive enough to win conference championships,” Plano athletic director Steve Lucas said. “Hopefully, it gives our coaches and athletes confidence when they go into compete, as well as create excitement for the student body to where we can increase our participation numbers. The two are tied together.”
Plano’s enrollment currently stands at about 770, making it one of the smallest schools in the Interstate 8 as it’s currently constituted. Schools such as Ottawa, Kaneland and Sycamore are nearly double that enrollment. The schools in the KRC are much more comparable in size, with Woodstock the largest school at 1,003 students, according to the IHSA website.
“We are putting our athletes and coaches with like-minded schools,” Lucas said. “We definitely don’t want to put our kids at a disadvantage. Any time we’re traveling to a Sycamore or a Kaneland that is double our size, we are running into a roadblock. Those are very successful programs. We just don’t have their numbers.”
Lucas said that Plano and Sandwich were approached early on by the Illinois Central Eight, which includes a number of former I-8 conference schools, to join their league exclusively for football. Lucas said they also explored the possibility of joining the Big Northern Conference, another league with similar-sized schools.
Like the KRC, the increased travel was a concern when considering the Big Northern.
“We’re just not in a geographical position to have a bunch of schools our size to be able to compete against,” Lucas said. “We’re excited about the new competition. Anything I can do to put our kids at a competitive advantage, I’m going to do. For the most part, when we had a vote of coaches a significant amount of coaches were on board with this decision. Does anybody like the extra travel time? Certainly not, but it’s not about us. It’s putting our kids at the best competitive advantage.”
Plano’s move is the latest shift for an Interstate 8 Conference that has undergone quite a facelift over the past five years. In 2019, six schools from the now-defunct Northern Illinois Big 12 – Kaneland, La Salle-Peru, Morris, Ottawa, Rochelle and Sycamore – joined the league. That came after Coal City, Herscher, Lisle, Manteno, Peotone, Reed-Custer, Streator and Wilmington left to create the Illinois Central Eight Conference.
Together, those changes made Plano and Sandwich the smallest members of the league, and both have struggled to compete against schools that dwarf them in size.
All sports and activities will compete as an eight-team conference starting in 2023-2024 except in football.
The Interstate 8 and the Kishwaukee River began a football-only partnership this past fall, combining the two conferences into groups divided by enrollment size.
According to a post on the Plano District 88 Facebook page on Tuesday the I-8/KRC football partnership will continue through fall 2023 with the KRC having its own conference football schedule in 2024.