Sterling’s Marquez Williams (8) runs the ball during the first quarter of the Golden Warriors’ Week 3 game against Rock Island Alleman last season. While it was a nonconference win for Sterling last fall, the Pioneers will be a league foe for the 2019 season, the Warriors’ first in the Western Big 6. For the second year in a row, Alleman will visit Roscoe Eades Stadium in Week 3 on September 13.
Sterling’s Marquez Williams (8) runs the ball during the first quarter of the Golden Warriors’ Week 3 game against Rock Island Alleman last season. While it was a nonconference win for Sterling last fall, the Pioneers will be a league foe for the 2019 season, the Warriors’ first in the Western Big 6. For the second year in a row, Alleman will visit Roscoe Eades Stadium in Week 3 on September 13. — Michael Krabbenhoeft/mkrabbenhoeft@saukvalley.com

The Western Big 6 Conference will play its 49th football season his fall, but the first with eight members.

After nonconference games against Marengo and Pekin to begin the 2019 slate, Sterling will play its first WB6 game in Week 3 against Alleman – a team the Golden Warriors previously played in the nonconference.

All three games will be played at Roscoe Eades Stadium.

“Last year was our first time playing Marengo, and we had a 2-year contract with them,” said Sterling head coach Jon Schlemmer, who is entering his eighth season at the helm. “It was our fourth time playing Pekin. Alleman used to be a nonconference game; we didn’t want to say it didn’t have much meaning then, but it’ll definitely be ramped up this year.”

Sterling announced its move to the WB6 – the fourth athletic conference in SHS history – last March after spending the previous 9 years in the Northern Illinois Big 12.

The NIB-12 started to crumble in December 2017 when LaSalle-Peru, Morris, Ottawa and Rochelle announced their intention to leave for the Interstate Eight Conference. Kaneland, Sycamore and Yorkville followed soon after. Sycamore will also play in the Interstate 8, while DeKalb will compete in the DuPage Valley
Conference, and Yorkville will play in the Southwest Prairie Conference.

Sterling’s first road game will be Week 4 against
Geneseo, which is also playing in its first season as a member of the Western Big 6. The Golden Warriors have won four straight games against their chief rival, outscoring the Maple Leafs 154-36.

Geneseo and Sterling have played each other in football in conference and divisional play every year since 1981. The Golden Warriors lead the overall rivalry 28-23, but trail 20-18 in the series since becoming conference foes.

Sterling will enter relatively uncharted territory in Week 5 with Quincy at home. Road trips to Rock Island and United Township in East Moline are sandwiched around the Warriors’ Week 7 home game against the conference’s largest school, Moline (2,061 enrollment).

The Warriors close the regular season with a home game against Galesburg.

“We’ve played Moline and UT since I’ve been here as an assistant and head coach,” Schlemmer said. “It’s Quincy, Rocky and Galesburg that we haven’t played. Even with some turnover in coaches throughout the years, each school has a foundation of who they are.”

Sterling athletic director and assistant football coach Greg King was an assistant at Rock Island for 11 seasons – including a runner-up finish in Class 5A in 1997 – before becoming the head coach at SHS in 2002.

“I’m familiar with the schools and facilities, but I’ve been gone 17 years,” King said. “There’s been a lot of coaching changes since, but I still have that familiarity with the traditions of each school.”

King went 78-28 in 10 seasons as the Warriors’ head coach before Schlemmer took over in 2012. Schlemmer is 60-19 with 10 playoff wins, including back-to-back 5A semifinal appearances in 2017 and 2018.

“We’re lucky we got six home games [this season],” Schlemmer said. “But Weeks 3 through 9 will be a grind in the league. That middle and final part of the schedule is tough. We’ll be challenged right away.”

Sterling will likely play five home or road games in 2020, according to King.

“Since both nonconference games [Marengo and Pekin] were away last year, those are now at home,” King said. “We knew that there was a possibility to draw more home games this year. It’ll likely go back to 5 and 4 next year, depending on who we add in the nonconference.”

District play will replace conference play in 2021. Districting will be determined by two factors – enrollment and proximity – meaning the Warriors may only play their new conference mates twice on the gridiron.

Sterling has an enrollment of 1,021 for the 2019-20 school year, the third-smallest in the WB6. Quincy (1,788.5 enrollment) is the second-largest to Moline, followed by United Township (1,666.5), Rock Island (1,626.5), and Galesburg (1,284). Geneseo (827.5) and Alleman (435/717.75 multiplied) are the only schools smaller than Sterling.

Proximity will also factor into the district equation. Geneseo is the closest to Sterling (96 miles round-trip), followed by United Township (98), Moline (126), Alleman and Rock Island (132), Galesburg (172) and Quincy (406).