Panhandle Approves All-Sports Co-op

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The Panhandle School Board approved a proposal to co-op all sports at the junior high and high school level with Morrisonville on Monday, Feb. 22, which figuratively puts the ball in the Mohawks’ court.

Discussed previously at the January board meeting, the board members voted unanimously to approve the new co-op agreement, which would put all high school sports at Lincolnwood and all junior high sports in Morrisonville.

Currently, the two schools co-op for boys and girls golf, boys basketball, cheerleading, baseball and soccer at the high school level, with Nokomis and Pawnee also coming to Lincolnwood for soccer, which will continue. In junior high, baseball, boys basketball and cheerleading are also under a co-op.

Currently, high school baseball is at Morrisonville, while junior high baseball is at Lincolnwood. Those two locations would switch under the new proposal, which also adds volleyball, softball and girls basketball to the agreement.

The agreement is contingent on approval from the Morrisonville School Board as well. Panhandle Superintendent Aaron Hopper said that their board discussed the measure, but did not take action due to the absence of Superintendent David Meister, who lost his son Jake on Feb. 16, after a lengthy battle with leukemia.

The IHSA mandates that co-ops are in place for a two-year cycle, with a new cycle beginning for the 2021-22 school year. If the Panhandle or Morrisonville boards did not act this year, the earliest an all-sports co-op would have been possible was the 2023-24 school year.

The matter drew some questions from the Panhandle board. Board President Terri Payne asked if Lincolnwood was in position to host high school baseball again. Hopper said that Athletic Director Josh Stone believed that the school would be good to go in terms of uniforms and the playing surface at Stieren Field in Raymond, which is still used by the Lincolnwood Junior High baseball team.

Board member Scott Cowdrey asked who was in charge of setting roster limits at the high school and junior high. Lincolnwood Principal Ken Schuster said that decision would probably be up to the administrators.

Cowdrey questioned what would happen if a sport had 60 kids try out and whether kids who should be playing would have to sit on the bench. 

Based on IHSA enrollments (90.5 for Morrisonville and 144.5 for Lincolnwood), and assuming that both schools are 50 percent boys and girls (roughly 117 each), half of the respective student body would have to play a sport to reach 60 participants.

Schuster said he was confident that both schools could accommodate large participation numbers, as they have done with multiple teams in baseball. Hopper added that he felt that it was important for players to play at the right level and not have younger, less mature players forced to step up into varsity positions.

The idea of the all-sports co-op received great support from the coaches at both schools and was put forth because enrollments at Lincolnwood are projected to decrease.

Even at the current levels, Lincolnwood has had difficulty in fielding two separate varsity and junior varsity squads in softball and volleyball.

Morrisonville, who has also had issues fielding full teams in those sports, will vote on the proposal at their next meeting.

The co-op was one of the few items that drew much discussion during the meeting, which lasted 22 minutes in open session.

The board also approved the second reading of board policies and heard from Hopper regarding the parking lot project before the closed session and accepted the resignation of cafeteria cook Bridget Meyer and voted to keep executive session minutes for Sept. 2020 through Jan. 2021 closed after the 18-minute closed session.

Hopper also said that representatives from the four Montgomery County high schools had been meeting regarding the school calendar for the 2021-2022 school year.

Before the board entered closed session, Schuster shared a letter from the Illinois Athletic Directors Association in recognition of Stone and his earning of his Certified Athletic Administrator (CAA) distinction.

“The National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association’s certification is a voluntary professional service to athletic administrators and is based on the premises of continuing education, professional growth, and program development in the vocation of interscholastic athletic administration,” the letter read. “The attainment of professional certification demonstrates the completion of a comprehensive plan for self-improvement that will enhance the ability of the athletic administrator to better serve his or her school, community and profession.”

The members of the board congratulated Stone, who was at the meeting briefly during the co-op discussion, but left to fulfill his duties down the hall at the Lincolnwood girls basketball game.

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