Proviso East High School football practice on Wednesday August 9, 2023 | Todd Bannor

Football players at Proviso West and East are gearing up for the upcoming football season with two teams instead of one.

That’s not as “duh” as it sounds: Talk had buzzed about merging District 209’s teams. But that’s off the table — at least for this season. 

The idea of a merger was circulated on social media by Coach Scottie Ware, head coach at Proviso West. 

Ware, an East alum, and longtime district coach, has gained attention from the Proviso community for pushing the consolidation of the two teams. For some, the teams’ rivalry is too exciting to end. For others, a merger is the only thing that will give these student athletes a fighting chance to win.

Proviso East High School football practice on Wednesday August 9, 2023 | Todd Bannor

“One thing about this, I went to Proviso East, if you would have asked me 10 years ago if I would have ended up being the coach at West, I would have laughed at you,” said Ware. “When you take the emotions out of it and what people call traditions…this is a no- brainer and overdue.”

In a Letter to the Editor of the Forest Park Review, Joseph Radecki, a teacher at East agreed.

“The kids deserve a chance to compete, and by consolidating they will have just that,” Radecki wrote. “Successful football programs today rarely have two-way players and we cannot continue to expect our student-athletes to perform when they are simply tired.” 

Ware presented his petition merger during a July board of education meeting, demonstrating a marked growth in the Hispanic student population.

 “Hispanics traditionally don’t play football and the majority don’t play sports at all. And if they did decide to play sports, football is at the same time as soccer season so I would never win that battle,” he said.

Proviso East High School football practice on Wednesday August 9, 2023 | Todd Bannor

According to his figures, 56 percent of students at West are Hispanic; at East, it’s 59 percent.

Ware also showed that other primarily Hispanic high schools have already combined their football teams, including J. Sterling Morton High School District 201, Cicero, and Leyden High School District 212, Franklin Park.

Both Proviso teams are a part of the West Suburban Conference Schools, along with Oak Park and River Forest High School.

According to Ware, Illinois schools should have a freshman team, a sophomore team, and juniors and seniors would comprise the junior varsity and varsity team. A complete varsity team, according to Ware, would have 86 players.

One practice for West’s football team only saw 37 players. Every year that passes, Ware said, they see a decrease in numbers. Toward the end of July, the high schools held a joint practice, pulling in 57 players between the two programs. 

Despite the challenges for the upcoming season, they will have to try to stick it out for at least one more year because the district missed the Aug. 1 deadline to apply to merge the programs. 

At the early August board meeting, Calvin Davis, director of athletics, said they would need the approval of the Illinois High School Association IHSA Board for a merger.

He added that rules for co-ops say that if a school has a student enrollment of 600 or more, they cannot co-op programs for football or basketball. 

Proviso East High School football coach Aaron Peppers leads a player in high knees on Wednesday August 9, 2023 | Todd Bannor

Board President Amanda Grant told Forest Park Review they are open to a merger in the future and that it wasn’t completely off the table. 

Davis pointed out that based on the number of students registered for summer football, about 40 at each school, they believe the high schools will have enough players for at least one level. 

Ware said both teams have about 50 players, so his plan is to go for a straight freshman team and then to combine sophomore, juniors, and seniors for varsity.

Proviso West will play their first home game of the season versus T.F. North, Calumet City, on Friday, Aug. 25 at 7 p.m.