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Naperville North quarterback Tyler Gehr releases a pass against West Chicago at Naperville North High School in Naperville, Ill., on Friday, Sept. 23, 2011. | Corey R. Minkanic~For Sun-Times Media
Outside athletic director Doug Mullaney’s office at West Chicago High School is a hallway with trophy cases on both sides.
On the right side are the awards from the IHSA. Since 1978, the Wildcats have won 43 regional and sectional titles in a variety of sports, including tennis, basketball and softball.
Across the way are the DuPage Valley Conference trophies, 21 of them won during the same span, 11 of them in softball.
The conclusion Mullaney draws from those numbers: West Chicago needs to be in a different conference.
West Chicago principal Dr. Moses Cheng and its school board agree. The board voted 4-3 last week to leave the DuPage Valley with the intention of joining the Metro Suburban Conference. It’s a move that long has been expected.
‘‘This has been ongoing for the last 12 to 15 years,’’ Mullaney said. ‘‘Every year there has been discussion, but this year Dr. Cheng and I and the rest of the administration made a definite push to convey all the rationale there is to leave and not to stay.’’
Boiled down, that argument is pretty simple: West Chicago can’t really compete in the DuPage Valley, and that situation isn’t likely to improve.
‘‘We really feel, as do many others in the town, that a change needs to be made to create a different atmosphere for our school, our programs and our kids,’’ Mullaney said. ‘‘There’s something about going into contests knowing you’re up against a very formidable foe and there’s not much of a chance to win.’’
The Wildcats have had success lately in girls sports. The softball team has won three consecutive regionals and the volleyball team two, and the basketball team was a regional champ last season.
But it’s hard to avoid the losing perception in football. West Chicago won a state title in Class 3A in the first year of the IHSA playoffs, 1974, but has been an also-ran since. Its last winning season in football was 1978 (6-4) and its last non-losing season was 2002 (5-5). Since the start of the 2003 season, the Wildcats are 15-69.
West Chicago is the smallest school in the eight-team DuPage Valley with an enrollment of 2,148 (Wheaton North is next at 2,195). It would be by far the biggest in the Metro Suburban, which currently is a five-team league for football and has seven schools for other sports (Illiana Christian and Timothy Christian don’t play football). Fenton, which has 1,499 students, is now the biggest school in the Metro Suburban.
‘‘Some will say we’re going too far to the extreme,’’ Mullaney said. ‘‘The Metro Suburban, they’re great schools. We play them now, and they’re great opponents.’’
When the Wildcats will be able to play those teams as conference opponents remains to be seen. While their acceptance into the league seems a foregone conclusion, they first have to be released from the DuPage Valley.
There’s the rub. While a seven-team conference wouldn’t be a problem in most sports, it’s an AD’s nightmare for football. Having an odd number of schools requires leagues to find nonconference opponents late in the season, which is next to impossible, especially for programs the caliber of those in the DuPage Valley.
So it seems unlikely the league will let West Chicago leave until a replacement is ready to join. This being the Internet age, the message boards have been heating up with speculation, mostly centered on members of the Upstate Eight’s Valley Division.
What would seem to be a sticking point, though, is that the most-talked-about possibilities — including Neuqua Valley and Waubonsie Valley — are part of multischool districts that traditionally don’t like having their teams spread among multiple conferences.
So now the Wildcats are playing the waiting game until they’re allowed to make their move.
‘‘I hope it’s sooner than later,’’ Mullaney said.
When it does happen, maybe the left side of that hallway will have a little more hardware.
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