For four decades and counting, St. Edward, Immaculate Conception, Marmion, Montini and St. Francis stuck together through thick and thin, first as members of the West Suburban Catholic Conference, which then became the Suburban Catholic and eventually turned into to the modern-day Suburban Christian.
Now those ties stand to be severed after seven of the Suburban Christian’s member schools finalized plans Thursday to join the Metro Suburban Conference for the 2014-15 school year.
St. Edward is one of the seven schools on the move, marking a big change for the Elgin institution as it ventures into unfamiliar territory as part of a new 14-team league made up of both public and private schools.
“As one of the founding members of the original Suburban Catholic Conference, we are saddened to be leaving the SCC, while at the same time we are excited about the new athletic, academic, and spiritual opportunities in our future,” St. Edward superintendent Fr. David C. Finn said in a press release Thursday.
The four biggest SCC schools — Marmion, Marian Central, Montini and St. Francis — along with Aurora Christian are now left with an uncertain future as they survey the changing conference landscape. All five schools are noted football powers, which goes to the root of why the changes are being put in motion in the first place.
In 2009, the seven remaining members of the old Suburban Catholic joined up with four schools from the Private School League to form the Suburban Christian Conference. From the beginning, the league was defined by the haves and the have-nots on the football field.
When several of the smaller, less successful football schools declared they intended to leave the SCC, St. Edward was left with two options. It could stick with its traditional conference mates and run the risk of being a perennial underdog in football, or it could break its long-standing ties and follow a path it hopes will lead to a more competitive playing field in all sports — but particularly on the gridiron.
In the end St. Edward chose the latter, joining Aurora Central Catholic, Immaculate Conception, Chicago Christian, Guerin, Wheaton Academy and Walther Lutheran as the SCC teams making the move to the Metro Suburban.
“It’s bittersweet to see some of those rivalries go, but at the same time if it means more competition for our kids and a better opportunity when we do have a good team to get into the playoffs, I’m all for it,” St. Edward football coach Mike Rolando said. “In all the other sports you can go 0-20 and still make the playoffs. In football we don’t have that luxury. You have to win more than 50 percent of your games to get in the playoffs, and when you’re going against stiff competition every week, sometimes that doesn’t benefit you.
“For us to be on a more level playing field for all nine of our games, I think that will be something that will help our program thrive and hopefully continue to grow.”
Divided by football
The Suburban Christian produced two football state champions in 2012 and another state quarterfinalist, which is nothing out of the ordinary for the league. But the gap between the conference’s perennial powerhouses and bottom feeders was wider than ever as evidenced by some of the lopsided results in games between former Suburban Catholic powers such as Marian Central and Montini and the less-polished programs from the old Private School League.
St. Edward found itself stuck in the middle. At times the Green Wave fielded teams capable of competing with the state-title contenders, but at other times it was woefully undermanned, as was the case last year when it had fewer than 30 players on its varsity roster.
“From our standpoint, we tried to survive and fight as hard as we could, and in certain years we have been competitive with those big dogs,” Rolando said. “I think some of the other schools maybe had a more uphill battle than us, and basically there were a few that were leaving the SCC no matter what.
“The Metro Suburban extended the invitation to all seven of us, and rather than be left behind in a conference with only four or five teams, we thought it would be in our best interest for all our sports to go with the majority and join this new conference.”
A new frontier
St. Edward and the rest of the migrating schools will compete one more year as a member of the SCC before moving to their new home.
The Metro Suburban as it is currently comprised is a five-team football conference made up by Fenton, Elmwood Park, Glenbard South, Ridgewood and Riverside-Brookfield. Illiana Christian and Timothy Christian are also member schools, but they don’t field football teams.
The plan is for the newly-formatted Metro Suburban to be split into two six-team divisions for football. Rolando said early projections have St. Edward moving into a division with Chicago Christian, Elmwood Park, Guerin, Ridgewood and Walther Lutheran, but that grouping is far from being set in stone.
While football is a driving force behind the conference change, St. Edward’s other sports will also find themselves in new surroundings. The Green Wave has traditionally fielded strong girls volleyball, basketball and soccer teams, and several boys sports have enjoyed solid showings in recent years.
With regard to travel, the Metro Suburban is slightly less far-flung than the Suburban Christian, which stretches from Woodstock to Palos Heights. St. Edward will be in the far northwestern corner of the Metro Suburban map.
Public vs. private
One of the most noteworthy changes for St. Edward is its entry into a league with public schools, which will be a new experience.
With an official enrollment of 406 this year, St. Edward will be far smaller than the five public schools in the Metro Suburban, which range from 800 to 1,500 students.
The Metro Suburban public schools are similar in size to Marmion, Marian Central, Montini and St. Francis. But unlike the SCC schools, the public schools are bound by attendance boundaries and are not able to recruit high-level talent to fill out the football roster the same way the SCC powers have in recent years.
“It seems like more and more kids are migrating to winning programs,” Rolando said. “There are juniors and seniors transferring in and playing key roles at some of these (SCC) schools.
“I think St. Edward has made it clear we are an academic institution first. Playing sports is just part of the well-rounded makeup of the kids, and we’re not willing to jeopardize our academic standing for any sport. We’ll have our good years and challenging years, but St. Edward has built a reputation first and foremost on a very strong academic platform.”