Firmly established as one of the most successful and popular leagues -- in any sport -- in the metro-east area, the Southern Illinois High School Bowling Conference, turns 17 this season.
And for the first time in many years, the growth of the league is the least of worries for SIHSBC commissioner Mike Imes.
With 25 boys and girls teams, the SIHSBC is as big as it's going to get -- for now.
"There may be one or two schools we'd love to add yet, but my feeling is if they're not on board at this stage, we may not get them,'' Imes said. "We've got 25 schools in the conference and when you add schools like Herrin, Salem, Centralia and others from southern Illinois, I bet we've got 40 schools who now have bowling programs down here.
"And if you look at the state series, you would see that in the last 10 years we've been able to hold our own against the teams from the northern part of the state.''
Coming off an '11-12 season which saw O'Fallon and Alton place in the top six in the boys IHSA State Tournament and Collinsville, O'Fallon and Belleville West finish in the top 10 at the girls' state finals, the SIHSBC should be competitive once again.
The 2012-13 season kicks off on Nov. 19 at bowling centers throughout the metro-east and continues through early February.
Boys sectional tournaments are set for Jan 18-19 with the IHSA State Tournament scheduled for Jan 25-26 at St. Clair Bowl in O'Fallon. The girls bowling postseason begins with sectionals on Feb. 1-2 followed by the state tournament on Feb. 8-9 at Cherry Bowl in Rockford.
"I'm looking forward to another great year,'' said Imes, who is also the O'Fallon boys coach. "Alot of the top programs have bowlers who compete all year long in leagues, camps and clinics. Its what they do.
"The junior high program has also been a huge advantage for teams like O'Fallon, West and East in that the bowlers have gone from junior high and stepped into the high school programs.''
Imes will lead an O'Fallon team which will feature perhaps the top 1-2 combination in the state in senior Tommy Frost and junior Billy Goodman.
Both Goodman and Frost placed in the top 15 at state last year.
However in a Southwestern Conference which features perennial state powers Belleville East, Belleville West, Collinsville, Alton and Granite City, every match will be tough.
"I compare our Southwestern Conference to the NFC East in pro football. There is just so much parity,'' Imes said. "It doesn't matter if you are bowling East or Alton or Granite City, you just know that each game will be close and the match will almost always be decided in the final frame.''
Belleville East, Collinsville and O'Fallon should also be among the teams to watch in the girls competition of the SIHSBC.