DAKOTA, Ill. (WTVO/WQRF) –On the surface, the Northwest Upstate Illini Conference looks like the land of opportunity when it comes to schools cooping to form teams. Coops are everywhere. Most notably the DuPec coop in football, but Dakota and Aquin recently had their desire to form a coop in wrestling get shot down.

Dakota cranks out championship wrestlers and championship teams.  Six times Dakota has won Class 1A team state championships, but like a lot of wrestling teams these days and sports teams in general at small schools, Dakota has seen its numbers dwindle. This year the Indians have 18 wrestlers. In the past the numbers have been more in the 22 to 26 range. Filling out a line up, especially in the lowest weight classes is a challenge.

Aquin hasn’t had wrestling since the mid-80s.  There are some wrestlers in the youth levels at  Aquin who do wrestle with Dakota kids forming a natural tie between the schools so a Coop makes sense.

“We’ve talked about it a couple years some of the coaches at Dakota,” said Dakota coach Matt Jacobs.  “We’ve wanted to give them an opportunity.”

The school boards at both Dakota and Aquin approved a Coop in wrestling. So did the IHSA, but the rest the administrators in the NUIC took a vote in November and did not approve one, so it didn’t happen.

Coops in wrestling abound in the NUIC.  Amboy, AFC, Lamoille and Ohio form one. Durand and Pecatonica form another.  Lena-Winslow and Stockton are a powerhouse Coop.  Polo, Forreston, Eastland and Milledgeville also Coop in the sport.  Even Dakota for a decade has formed a Coop with Orangeville, although Dakota hasn’t had an Orangeville wrestler on the team for the last five or six years. So why was this Coop rejected?

“That’s a good question,” said Jacobs. It was very bizarre to me and our coaching staff and our administration here at the school. It seemed like the conference vote was a formality.”

I suggested that perhaps the other schools are afraid of a powerhouse Dakota program becoming even more powerful.

“If they are that’s not what high school sports is about,” said Jacobs. “There’s going to be good teams and there’s going to be teams not as good. If you’re afraid of a good team getting better, you’ve just got to work harder.”

Jacobs says forming a Coop with Aquin or any school is about giving more kids opportunities to compete. It’s about growing the sport.  And besides if a Coop with Aquin happened and several kids from Aquin entered the program and became championship caliber wrestlers it wouldn’t so much hurt other teams in the area as it would hurt Dakota. Since Aquin is a non-boundaried or private school, Dakota would become subject to the multiplier affect where it would be bumped up to a higher class in the postseason.

“And we’re fine with that,” said Jacobs. “It (a Coop) actually could make it harder for us. We’ve never backed down from a challenge as you know. We’re fine with going to the next level if we’re that successful.”

A Dakota-Aquin co-op is dead for this season, but Jacobs says they might pursue one again in the offseason.