By Kyle Daubs
Coaches see Monticello, Urbana and Champaign Central as the best replacements for Lincoln in the Apollo Conference
Lincoln voted to leave the Apollo Conference and return to Big 12, likely after the 2021-22 school year.
Teutopolis is only in the Apollo on a one-year contract. So these departures would leave the conference with six teams — Charleston, the only founding member, Effingham, Mount Zion, Mattoon, Taylorville, and Mahomet-Seymour.
Coles County Sports reached out to every coach of all sports from all remaining six schools to hear their opinions. In summary, here is what they have to say.
The common responses included Monticello, Urbana, and Champaign Central.
Monticello is a member of the Illini Prairie Conference that has seen real success in boys and girls cross country as well as football. Monticello won the 2018 Class 3A state championship, while the Sages’ cross country teams have won state or placed high in the last three seasons.
“I think that Monticello would be a good addition,” said Mattoon boys golf coach Bill Behrends. “Although they are a bit smaller than the other schools in the Apollo, they have quality sports programs every year and the travel time is reasonable.’
Mahomet-Seymour boys track coach Keith Pogue agrees that Monticello “is another possibility,” but sees the school’s enrollment size of 511 as a problem. Pogue believes that Apollo should invite both Big 12 members Urbana and Champaign Central, as well as look to convince former Apollo member Olney.
“I’m not sure who could replace Lincoln, but I would invite Urbana and Champaign Central,” said Pogue. “However, they would probably decline as they are original Big12 members. Olney is a nice fit in terms of population, but they have the advantage of being a big fish in a small pond and the distance is a problem too. Macomb might work as a football-only member; they already play a lot of the teams in our conference.”
Mattoon boys tennis coach Joey Boyer also likes the idea of Urbana, especially since T-Town is likely to leave the Apollo after this season.
“I have always been a big fan of bringing in Urbana,” said Boyer. “Urbana is a team that most, if not all, of our sports play on a yearly basis. Another team that I have enjoyed being a part of Apollo this year has been Teutopolis. I feel as though the lack of a football program is the only thing that stops T-Town from being a long-term Apollo team.”
No Teams Needed
Some coaches believe that a six-team conference is just fine. Mahomet-Seymour volleyball coach Stan Bergman has “no preference,” while baseball coach Nic DiFilippo believes Apollo won’t “find a good replacement.”
Taylorville basketball coach Ryan Brown sees a six-team conference fine given that the Apollo can fill a football schedule, while the distance is not doable for the remaining members.
“I don’t see the need to add another team at this time,” said Brown. “We have six schools, which is enough to make a football conference. Considering the large square mileage our conference covers, keeping six teams allows Taylorville to schedule teams within the Springfield area. And having a smaller conference allows teams to better schedule non-conference opponents to the strength of their teams.”
However, Pogue sees a six-team conference as a potential future problem for the league. Before joining the Apollo, Mahomet-Seymour was a member of the now-defunct Corn Belt Conference from 1986 to 2017.
In the league’s final year, there were only seven remaining teams, which featured Bloomington Central Catholic, Pontiac, Normal University, Olympia, Prairie Central, Chillicothe, Illinois Valley Central, and Mahomet-Seymour.
Ultimately, University High left for the Central State Eight, while Mahomet-Seymour left for the Apollo. The five remaining schools, as well as the five remaining schools of the Okaw Valley, formed the new Illini Prairie Conference.
“We have seen this before in the Corn Belt,” said Pogue. “I hope the situation does not spell doom for the conference. Six is a precarious number.”