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Local Column

Olson: Conference concerns could disrupt storied rivalry

Tailgaters have a good time outside the stadium before the annual DeKalb-Sycamore game Friday, Sept. 15, 2017.
Tailgaters have a good time outside the stadium before the annual DeKalb-Sycamore game Friday, Sept. 15, 2017.

Friday’s football game between DeKalb and Sycamore could be the last one for awhile, which would be a shame.

The two teams’ conference will disintegrate after this school year. Sycamore is headed to the Interstate 8 Conference, while DeKalb still is looking for a new conference. If the Barbs wind up in a conference with nine other football schools, there would be no room for this game. Still, that might be a better option than the prospect of playing a season as an independent, which could be a scheduling nightmare across many sports.

There’s going to have to be some news on this front for DeKalb somewhat soon – you can’t just make up an athletic schedule for more than a dozen sports overnight.

Expect DeKalb officials to do what they can to keep the rivalry going. It’s in their – and Sycamore’s – best interest.

The annual matchup between the two schools routinely draws the biggest crowds for a local high school football game. Since the 2013 season, my family and I have attended, along with a lot of our neighbors.

It’s what people have done here for decades. DeKalb and Sycamore had a fierce football rivalry in the 1930s and ’40s, which became a little too fierce. After the 1950 game, in which the Barbs whitewashed the Spartans, 34-0, on a field at Clinton Rosette Middle School, the two teams didn’t play again until 1976.

The rivalry resumed in the ’70s, when the athletic directors of the schools decided that the game always would be played at Huskie Stadium and that the two teams would split the gate revenue.

That’s been the case most every year since. Notable exceptions were 1984, when a Sycamore teachers’ strike forced a Spartans forfeit, 1993 to ’96 when conference scheduling issues got in the way, and in 2015, when a lightning storm led the game to be postponed until the next day – and played on DeKalb’s home field. (That game, you may remember, was a 31-28 thriller that DeKalb won on a 30-yard field goal by then-freshman kicker Connor Tierney with seconds left to play.)

Football is the only IHSA sport where not every team makes the playoffs, and it drives most of the decisions on conference alignment these days. Most schools try not to join up with or admit new members who consistently will beat them. DeKalb has been denied entry to the Northern Illinois Conference 10 and the Upstate 8 Conference this year.

Both schools have a financial incentive to keep playing each other, not just in the ticket revenue from the game, but in the community fundraiser that’s grown up around it.

In 2000, the Castle Challenge – now the First National Challenge – started as a way to raise money for the two schools’ booster clubs. It since has raised more than $1 million. The community loves this game.

No matter what happens, the two schools always will be able to play the basketball half of the challenge fundraiser. Those make for fun indoor winter events, but football’s the biggest draw.

Let’s hope the two sides continue to meet at Huskie Stadium after this season.

• Eric Olson is general manager of the Daily Chronicle. Reach him at 815-756-4841, ext. 2257, email eolson@shawmedia.com, or follow him on Twitter @DC_Editor.

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