Riverside-Brookfield High School’s football team will make four trips to the far south suburbs and beyond next year as team is joining the Southland Conference as an honorary member for football only in 2023. RBHS will the eighth team in the Southland Conference. 

The other seven schools in the Southland Conference for football are Bloom, Crete-Monee, Kankakee, Thornton, Thornridge, Thornwood and Rich Township. Next fall RBHS will have road games at Crete-Monee, Kankakee, Thornwood and Rich Township.

For most other sports, RBHS will remain in a shrunken version of the Metro Suburban Conference with Elmwood Park, Ridgewood and Westmont high schools while continuing to look for a long-term conference affiliation.

“It allows us to strengthen our non-conference schedules,” Assistant Principal for Athletics Brendan Curtin said.

The private schools currently in the Metro Suburban Conference are leaving to join either the Chicago Catholic League or a new Chicagoland Christian Conference.

Instead of playing football in the Metro Suburban League, which would have necessitated two games against each school in the conference as was briefly done more than a decade ago, RBHS officials tried to find a better fit.

“Just didn’t think it would be a fulfilling experience to ask our boys to play the same opponents twice within a season,” Curtin told the RBHS school board at their Dec. 13 meeting.

RBHS, with about 1,600 students, is a significantly bigger school than Elmwood Park (958 students), Ridgewood (843 students) and Westmont (375 students). The Bulldogs defeated Westmont, which has only one level of football, 55-0 last year. RBHS did not play Elmwood Park or Ridgewood in football last season because they were in a different division of the Metro Suburban Conference.

In gymnastics, water polo and swimming, RBHS competes in independent conferences because the other Metro Suburban Conference schools don’t have teams in those sports.

Ideally, RBHS would like to join a conference of schools of similar size and athletic programs. Curtin and Superintendent Kevin Skinkis have been looking a new conference affiliation for nearly two years but have so far been unable to find one that fits and is willing to allow RBHS to join.

“We’re trying to find a conference that can accommodate all of our levels,” Skinkis said meaning a conference that has competition in the larger sports at the freshman, sophomore and varsity levels and at least two levels in other sports.

Conferences typically consist of an even number of schools, so many are not interested in adding one new member.

“What happens is [potential partner conferences] want you to bring a date,” Skinkis told the school board. “So not only are you trying to find yourself an invitation but then you have to find someone who is looking to leave their conference and is of suitable size and has multiple levels and can fit in well with that conference.”

Skinkis told the Landmark that RBHS officials have approached the West Suburban Conference, with is made up of 14 schools, split into two divisions.

The West Suburban Gold Conference might be the best fit for RBHS. It has seven schools that range in size, for sports purposes, from Morton, (nearly 8,200 students) to Hinsdale South (1,407 students). 

For the past few years RBHS has opened the football season with a game against Morton, one the Bulldogs typically win. Next year, the RBHS football is adding Hinsdale South as its other non-conference opponent before playing the seven Southland Conference schools.

Joining the Southland Conference for most sports would result in significant travel times for RBHS teams to compete at away contests, which could be a burden in sports that compete more frequently than the once a week, like football. 

Enrollment at the Southland Conference schools, for football purposes, range from 1,065 for Thornridge to 2,804 for Bloom, which like Morton combines the enrollments of two schools for sports teams. 

The best football teams in the Southland Conference last season were Crete-Monee, which finished 9-3 and won two playoff games, and Kankakee, which finished 8-3 and won one playoff game.