High School Football

Dupo football leaving Cahokia Conference after 2016 season; will join Prairie State Conference

Former Dupo Tigers quarterback Drake Harvell.
Former Dupo Tigers quarterback Drake Harvell. Belleville News-Democrat

After a long run of past success in the Cahokia Conference that included five appearances in the state playoff semifinals, the Dupo Tigers will be playing football in another conference in 2017.

Following one more year in the Cahokia Conference, the Tigers will move to the Prairie State Conference beginning with the 2017 season.

“We’re out for football only,” said Dupo Athletic Director Jill Puckett, who said the Tigers would remain in the Cahokia Conference for all other sports. “We really have a good relationship with the Cahokia Conference and schools in the conference, so it was a very hard and long thought-out decision. We bounced pros and cons back and forth.

“For a school our size trying to compete week-in and week-out in the environment that we were in, it became more and more difficult for us.”

Dupo’s official enrollment is 311 students, the smallest school is the Cahokia Conference. The football conference currently includes Columbia (673 students), Freeburg (607), Central (550), Wesclin (409), Red Bud (401) and Carlyle (340).

It got to the point where it was a numbers game. I played a varsity football game this year with 24 guys. When you’re playing against a team that’s got 24 seniors, that’s not exactly an even playing field.

Dupo football coach Brad Weier

Current members of the Prairie State Conference for football are Wood River, Metro-East Lutheran, Marquette, Pawnee, Mt. Olive, Nokomis, South Fork and Bunker Hill.

Marquette has the highest enrollment in the Prairie State Conference at 696, but only because of the state-mandated multiplier enrollment for being a private school. Metro-East Lutheran’s football enrollment is 339 because it co-ops with Madison, but no other Prairie State school has a football enrollment of more than 282 students.

Columbia, the largest Cahokia Conference school, has made its last five state playoff appearances in Class 4A. Dupo would qualify in 2A if the Tigers reached the playoffs, with Carlyle the only other 2A team in the league.

“You look at the enrollments and the populations of the other towns,” Dupo coach Brad Weier said. “It got to the point where it was a numbers game. I played a varsity football game this year with 24 guys. When you’re playing against a team that’s got 24 seniors, that’s not exactly an even playing field.”

Proud football tradition

Dupo was once a dominant football team in the Cahokia Conference and Quad-County Conference before that, running through 15 straight seasons at .500 or higher from 1972 to 1986 in their picturesque stadium below the bluffs.

Dupo’s 37 playoff games ranks below East St. Louis (110 playoff games), Althoff (59), Mater Dei (49) and Edwardsville (45). The Illinois High School Association state football playoffs began in 1974.

For a school our size trying to compete week-in and week-out in the environment that we were in, it became more and more difficult for us.

Dupo Athletic Director Jill Puckett

That proud football tradition at Dupo includes five semifinal appearances and three 11-1 seasons (1983, 1989, 1990) under former coach Gary Mauser and two 9-2 seasons and an 8-1 season under former coach Jerry Germain. Dupo reached the semifinals in 1981, 1983, 1989, 1990 and 1994.

Mauser’s teams were 132-74 from 1980-95 and 1997-2001 and Germain’s Dupo squads were 57-28 from 1971-79.

A drop in population, players out for football and overall talent has led to declining win totals in recent years. So has an upward shift in population and enrollment growth at some other schools in the league.

The Tigers were 1-8 in 2015 and 2014 under Weier and have enjoyed only one winning seasons in the past 11 years. Dupo’s last two wins were over Freeburg this season and Principia in 2014 and Weier said he had eight players starting on both offense and defense this season.

The previous 11 years includes two 0-9 seasons and three 1-8 campaigns.

Changing landscape in the conference

Dupo officials believed it was time for a change and petitioned the Cahokia Conference to make a switch. They were officially accepted into the Prairie State Conference last week.

“It’s bittersweet,” Weier said. “Obviously I’m excited we’re going to be playing teams more our size. We’re the smallest schools in our conference and we’re headed into one where by enrollment we’re the third-biggest, but the Cahokia Conference has been good to us.

“If we want to build this program up, this is something that needed to be done so we could be a little more competitive year-in and year-out.”

Puckett said the Dupo varsity football roster had 26 players last season and the program features only 33 players from freshmen through seniors. After an early season freshman jamboree, the remainder of the freshman schedule was scrapped and the Tigers played seven games on the underclass level.

“Frustration was definitely a factor,” Weier said. “The kids go to the games and see what happens. Everyone wants to be part of our winner, so if we can even the playing field out on the schedule and win some games, hopefully things change.

“The community is very supportive of this program. The last thing they want to see is to not have football anymore. They’re ready to rally behind a winner.”

Norm Sanders: 618-239-2454, @NormSanders

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