As is expected when the first actual Illinois High School Association (IHSA) district football brackets are released for the 2021 season, there were winners and there were losers in the IHSA's first mock districts sent to schools this week.
The Times-area's six football-playing schools — Ottawa (Class 6A), Streator (5A), Sandwich (4A), Seneca (3A), Fieldcrest (2A) and Marquette (Class 1A) — were all placed in hypothetical districts by the IHSA ahead of a planned move from the current conference-based, schools-set-their-own-schedules football playoff system to a one based on districts formed of like-sized schools by the IHSA.
The district format was approved by IHSA member schools by a 324-307 vote in late 2018, but is not scheduled to go into effect until the 2021-22 school year. Ahead of that, however, the IHSA Wednesday sent member schools a "draft of what it might have looked like" for the 2019 season had it taken effect immediately.
For The Times area, the most striking district might be Class 5A South C, an eight-team district which would include Streator.
Along with the Bulldogs — currently the largest member of the Interstate Eight Conference by enrollment and next year set to be far and away the largest member of the new Illinois Central Eight after years of struggling to compete in the larger-school Northern Illinois Big 12 and larger division of the North Central Illinois — in 5A South C would be Freeport as well as perennial powerhouse programs such as Geneseo, Joliet Catholic, Morris, Rochelle, Rockford Boylan and Sterling.
In order to make the postseason under the current proposal, a team would need a top-four finish in its district.
"Some of the other (mock districts) had us going south, others had us going east, but this one has us going north and west along Interstate 80, it looks like," said Streator AD Rory Bedeker. "It's a lot to take in the first time you see it, because there are so many possible projections.
"Whichever way we go, we'll have to compete where they send us."
Ottawa in Class 6A was put in 6A's South A district, which has the Pirates mostly going southward. Other teams in the eighth-team district are Bloomington, Hinsdale South, Kankakee, La Salle-Peru, a strong Lemont program, powerhouse Providence Catholic, playoff regular Normal West and Wheaton St. Francis.
"It's about what we expected," OHS athletics director Mike Cooper said. "It is schools with similar enrollment to us, but we know it's going to change a lot, because it still has all the Chicago Public League schools in there and Mooseheart, which is going to 8-man. ...
"It's very preliminary, and I'm sure it's going to change a lot between now and 2021."
Both Cooper and Bedeker said that, while they have heard of school administrators and ADs voicing displeasure with the move to districts, they have not been contacted by any organizers of a counter-movement.
In 4A, both Sandwich and Plano are in 4A North C with Chillicothe IVC, Coal City, Prairie Central, Bishop Mac, Manteno, Mendota and Pontiac.
In 3A, Seneca was placed in 3A North C along with Peotone, Wilmington and five Chicago programs — Julian, Longwood, Ellison, Catalyst/Maria and Carver.
In 2A, Fieldcrest would be in 2A North D, a district populated mostly by its current Heart of Illinois Conference rivals. The district includes Fieldcrest, Tremont, Maroa-Forsyth (the lone non-HOIC team), Dee-Mack, Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley, El Paso-Gridley, Tri-Valley and Ridgeview-Lexington.
In 1A, the Marquette Crusaders were placed in 1A North B with a lot of familiar faces from its current and past conference homes — South Beloit, Morrison, Mooseheart (though Mooseheart has announced a move to 8-man football), Milledgeville, Hiawatha, a strong Fulton program, Aurora Christian and Ashton-Franklin Center.
For a further breakdown of the IHSA's mock districts, see Shaw Media high school football expert Steve Soucie's column.