Stories from intrepid reporters attending the Illinois Press Foundation Journalism Workshop at Eastern Illinois University
By Naihal Wajid
TAYLORVILLE — As the new school year is just around the corner, so is a new conference for sports.
Paul Held, THS athletic director, is preparing to head east for the Apollo Conference. That means new opponents in all sports, including nine in football and eight in volleyball.
In March of 2012, the Taylorville school board was deciding whether to make the switch from CS8 to Apollo. The vote was 3-4 in favor of staying in CS8. But board members Seth McMillen and Katie Fraley, however, moved for a second vote. It voted 6-1 in favor of switching and applying to Apollo in May of that same year. They were accepted in June to be in the Apollo conference starting the 2014-2015 school year.
“I think our staff and I know our students are excited about the change,” Held, AD at Taylorville since 2005, said. “It really has people excited to see what we can make of it.”
Some of the deciding factors to make the switch were demographics and competition.
Taylorville is going from being the second-smallest school to the second-biggest in the conference. Having more similar schools makes for more even competition.
In the CS8 there were some very good teams and a few poor teams. In the Apollo there are fewer differences.
“Most of the kids match up in Apollo,” says Thomas Snyder, a senior lineman on the football team and forward on the basketball team.
“There are equal playing demographics,” Snyder said. “We have short receivers, Apollo has short receivers. In CS8 you have 6-8 receivers and with Taylorville you maybe have two or three 6-0 receivers. So it’s good to match up to people, but we still work to be state champs.”
The Apollo wanted THS, and THS was looking for something different, so it matched up, according to Held. “You have to have six schools to have a conference and we’re the sixth in Apollo.”
One thing that excites Held is the new competition and rivalries expected in the Apollo Conference. Mt. Zion will become a huge rival school.
“They have a way of looking at things that don’t sit well with other folks,” Held said. All Apollo teams see Mt. Zion as a main competitor.
Snyder said the teams will work as hard as they did in the CS8.
“If you didn’t work hard, you’re not going to win,” Held said. “If you’re not ready to play each night, you’re going to be beaten in Apollo.”
Held said there are no “gimmes” in the Apollo.
“It’s a whole new conference really,” he states, “It’s a whole new ball game and everyone has a chance to set their new level. We had a particular way where we kind of fit in the old conference, and you kind of look to be better or worse than that, depending on the season. With Apollo, there is no slot to fit into.”
Switching to the Apollo, Taylorville will have to travel to multiple cities instead of one area to cover all the competition. All of the Apollo schools are 60 or more miles away.
But Snyder and Held don’t see it as a problem. “There are a lot of kids that believe in Taylorville. There’s a belief in this school that we are gonna do great,” Snyder said.
Because of the travel time, athletes will have to manage their studies better, Held said. “I don’t think it’s impossible and it’s not like they won’t have any free time,” he said. “That’s what athletics is there to teach: life lessons. It makes them better planners and organizers. It’s now a part of their job to do this travel.”
Students will have to learn to keep everything under control and make sure their homework is done. “If I do miss classes I’ll make it up the next day,” Snyder said. “If I don’t understand something I’ll come in early.”
Snyder says teachers are pretty lenient. “They understand that if you get home at midnight from the game and you didn’t do your homework, the teachers will give you a period to get everything done.”
“We’ll make changes if we have to,” Held said. “Nobody is not going to take a class because a bus leaves at 2:45.”
According to Held, there’s not much left to do for the switch.
Bus times and schedules will be adjusted. Donations are being rounded up already to pay for the new banners. All that’s left is for the athletes to prepare for the new season.
Snyder said they’ll be working as hard as they did in the CS8 because once they get into the playoffs, they’ll be facing those teams.
“We’re not just preparing to be Apollo champions, but we’re preparing to be CS8 champions. I really want to see us conference champs first year running,” he says, “We’re going to that next step where we want to be state champs.”
Held agrees that it was worth the switch from CS8 to Apollo. “There was a time for change and I think the board hit it just right.”