When the second weekend of June passes and the last days of the IHSA sports calendar end, the unofficial start of football season has arrived.
After schools held various camps during the past couple of weeks, things remained relatively quiet on the gridiron news front until Wednesday, when the IHSA released the 2019 football schedule.
For a newspaper that covers about a couple dozen schools and 15 football programs, all of that information is a lot to soak in and comprehend. But there were also a few tidbits of information that immediately stood out.
Last city rivalry put on hold
While the days of a true all-city football rivalry with the trio of Bishop McNamara, Bradley-Bourbonnais and Kankakee have been long gone, the latter two have managed to continue to do battle on what largely has been a yearly basis.
But that won’t be the case in 2019. For the first time since 1998, Bradley-Bourbonnais and Kankakee will not find themselves on each other’s schedules.
Three schools — Thornridge, Thornton and Thornwood — all left the SouthWest Suburban Conference for the Southland Conference at the end of the 2018-19 school year. With the three teams going from the Boilers’ conference to the Kays’ conference, that left just one nonconference week for the Kays: Week 4. Meanwhile, the Boilers saw their nonconference weeks come in the first two weeks of the season.
Both schools now will be filling their nonconference dates with schools at least three hours away. The Boilers will travel to Rock Island in Week 1 and host O’Fallon in Week 2, and Kankakee will trek to Macomb for its Week 4 contest.
It remains to be seen how the three Thorn schools will transition to the Southland, but the reality is all three programs largely struggled to tread water in an uber-competitive SWSC. The addition of the three schools gives the Kays a pretty solid shot at reaching the postseason under first-year coach Derek Hart.
On the flip side, wiping out a trio of schools from the floor of the SWSC will make the Boilers’ drive for five wins a more difficult task for coach Mike Kohl and company, but the Boilers figure to be a much more competitive and experienced squad than they were during the 2018 season, which saw them finish 4-5.
ICE, ICE baby
The Interstate Eight Conference disbanded at the end of the school year, with all six area schools that were a part of the I-8, along with former conference foes Streator and Lisle, forming the Illinois Central Eight Conference, or as it’s already being dubbed, ICE.
A conference that was 10 teams strong now will stand at eight, meaning divisions have been eliminated, and all eight schools will compete for the conference title. It also means every school in the conference will play one another, rather than schools playing other schools in their division and a pair of crossovers (although some schools played additional crossovers during nonconference weeks).
Clash of the green giants
A quarter of last year’s Class 4A quarterfinalists, Bishop McNamara — who lost in the championship game — and Coal City, reside in the area. Those two mid-sized titans will do battle in a Week 2 game in Coal City.
Scores of schools have spent the past 10 years or so scouring for less-than-competitive programs to fill nonconference weeks in an effort to better solidify a playoff position, but these two upper-echelon programs have done the opposite here.
This fall will be my third football season as a reporter, and aside from the currently defunct all-city rivalry between Bradley-Bourbonnais and Kankakee, I don’t think there has been a more compelling nonconference matchup on any area school slates.
This one just so happens to feature arguably the two squads with the area’s most realistic state title aspirations.