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Upstate Eight Conference extends invites

The area’s conference musical chairs are far from settled, but there is increasing cause for confidence that, when the music stops, the Upstate Eight Conference will remain on solid ground.

On Thursday, the conference announced it has extended invitations to three schools – West Chicago, West Aurora and Glenbard East. The West Chicago invitation applies starting with the 2013-14 school year – West Chicago would, at least temporarily, replace Lake Park in the UEC’s Valley Division – while West Aurora and Glenbard East have been invited beginning 2014-15.

Board approval is required from all three schools. If all three accept, the conference, potentially, could expand from two, seven-team divisions to a pair of eight-team divisions in 2014-15.

“To have as many options as we possibly have right now is a very good thing,” said Batavia athletic director Dave Andrews, who is playing a leading role in the ongoing maneuvering.

All three schools that received invitations are current members of the DuPage Valley Conference, which has been dominated in many sports by Naperville and Wheaton schools.

Lake Park is leaving from the UEC Valley after this school year to replace West Chicago in the DVC. West Chicago originally moved to join the Metro Suburban Conference before rankling Metro Suburban members by instead pursuing UEC membership.

If Glenbard East and West Aurora also decide to join the UEC, the DVC would have a pair of vacancies. Complicating the UEC’s future outlook, the UEC’s Indian Prairie District 204 schools – Neuqua Valley, Waubonsie Valley and Metea Valley – would seem like logical replenishing targets for the DVC.

“That’s never out of the realm of possibility, that other schools or current Upstate Eight schools will look to move conferences,” Andrews said. “Yes, that is always a possibility. We just hope that bylaws are abided by, which allows us the ability to either find replacements or make re-adjustments within our conference in a timely fashion.”

As long as the conference stands at an even number of schools – be it its current total of 14, or 16 – the UEC would be in solid shape. That’s why both West Aurora and Glenbard East or neither are expected to join the conference; West Chicago’s entry is considered highly likely.

While West Chicago would be in the Valley Division next school year, the divisional configurations beyond that are not yet established.

“There have been no formal conversations about that,” Andrews said. “A lot of fantasy league drafts, but no formal conversations about that yet. I’m sure everyone has their ideas and opinions.”

If the conference maintained its current, enrollment-driven divisional structure, and the UEC swells to 16 schools, a logical option would be to bump West Chicago to the smaller, River Division – alongside Batavia, Geneva, St. Charles East, St. Charles North, Elgin, Larkin and Streamwood – while West Aurora and Glenbard East could complement East Aurora, Bartlett, South Elgin, Metea Valley, Neuqua Valley and Waubonsie Valley on the Valley Division side.

West Aurora AD Jason Buckley, who said his school’s decision process might take “a few school board meetings,” said the divisional makeup will be a significant factor for West Aurora which, at about 3,400 students, would be significantly larger than the current River Division members.

“That’s something we care pretty deeply about,” Buckley said about the divisional set-up. “That’s going to matter going forward. We want to know exactly what we’d be getting into.”

Any substantial, divisional realignment would be made difficult by several clusters within the conference that want to remain in the same divisions. That includes the four Tri-Cities school, U-46 archrivals Elgin and Larkin and the three Indian Prairie schools, Metea, Neuqua and Waubonsie.

“You have to respect that a lot of people came into the conference expecting that, so people coming into the conference now are going to have to respect that and are going to have to build up relationships enough,” Elgin AD Paul Pennington said. “[We want] what’s right for the kids ultimately, but also respect what has been built in the Upstate Eight with the relationships and traditions with the schools.”

The UEC’s search for new members played out relatively quickly as the conference sought to solidify next year’s scheduling as swiftly as possible. On Oct. 4, the conference announced it was seeking applications from prospective new members, giving them a Nov. 1 deadline to convey interest.

The conference is in only its third year as presently configured after Batavia and Geneva joined, which prompted the UEC to split into two divisions.

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