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Prep Sports | SIRR trades Carterville for Benton and West Frankfort in divisional swap
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Prep Sports | SIRR trades Carterville for Benton and West Frankfort in divisional swap

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High school football fields will be dark and quiet on Friday evenings this fall as the Illinois High School Association announced on July 30 the postponement of football, along with volleyball and girls soccer, to the spring due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Southern Illinois River-to-River Conference announced on Tuesday its approval of a divisional realignment that will take place in the Mississippi and Ohio Divisions as soon as the 2023-24 school year.

Carterville is leaving the Mississippi Division to join the Ohio Division with Harrisburg, Herrin, Massac County and Murphysboro. Leaving the Ohio Division will be Benton and West Frankfort joining Anna-Jonesboro, Du Quoin, Nashville and Pinckneyville in the Mississippi Division.

Two things to note is the Mississippi Division now has six member schools following Sparta’s departure for the Cahokia Conference this school year. The Ohio Division will have one less member school, and while other schools such as Mount Carmel have been rumored to join the SIRR Conference, school administrators believe the change benefits the conference where it sits and could seek potential replacements in the future.

“When we joined the SIRR conference, we were open to joining either side of the conference,” said Carterville Principal and girls basketball coach Todd Rogers. “Enrollments of SIRR Conference schools have fluctuated over the last few years. We stated for the last few years that we were open to switching sides if that was what was deemed best for the conference as a whole.

“It has been determined by the group that now is the time to realign. We have always made it a point to play SIRR schools from both sides in most of our sports, so whichever side we are on does not really matter. It is my hope that we will continue to play all schools from both sides of the conference moving forward.”

Carterville left the Black Diamond Conference at the start of the 2010-11 school year to join the SIRR Conference, which originally formed in 1993, while Chester took Carterville’s place in the BDC.

In his first year back coaching Lady Lion basketball, Rogers enjoyed winning a share of the Mississippi Division alongside Nashville. Now the two schools will play on opposite sides of the conference once 2023 rolls around.

Benton joins the Mississippi Division with Nashville and fellow newcomer West Frankfort. It’s been a discussion topic among SIRR schools since Sparta announced its change to the Cahokia Conference in June of 2020.

“There have been talks about a shift in the conference for quite some time,” said Benton Principal and former athletic director Wade Thomas. “The conference was not okay with the Mississippi only having five member schools once Sparta left, so in our last meeting we had the schools switching divisions ask their school boards and community members for their blessings, and a blessing was given from all parties.”

This will put more work on the plates of athletic directors, Wade added, but conducting a school year amidst a pandemic, while safely executing extracurricular activities, should give the community hope that the transition runs smoothly.

“I am very excited about the shift in divisions,” said Benton boys basketball coach Ron Winemiller. “While it will be sad to no longer compete with the four schools we are leaving behind, we already have a good relationship with the four schools we are joining.

“Both sides of this league are highly competitive from top to bottom and we look forward to the next two years competing in the Ohio, but are also very excited to go to the Mississippi in the fall of ‘23.”

Pinckneyville Athletic Director Bob Waggoner noted that the decision made sense geographically for schools. With enrollment numbers playing a factor, the Ohio Division now possesses the five highest enrolled schools in the conference following the trade.

“For the Mississippi it’s a good thing because we go back to six teams,” Waggoner said. “I’m a little concerned with the number of conference games being played in the Ohio with only five schools, but for Carterville it’s a great fit because they’ve grown tremendously and have great facilities.”

SIRR schools now wait for football contracts to expire before welcoming familiar, but different rivalries in 2023. This allows member schools plenty of time to transition.

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