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DECATUR — Decatur school officials were cautiously optimistic the Central State Eight would approve their petition for MacArthur and Eisenhower to join the conference after submitting it Feb. 12.

Turns out deputy superintendent Lisa Mann, who helped organize the proposal, will have good news to take back to the Decatur School Board. Central State Eight principals and athletics directors met Wednesday and voted to add MacArthur and Eisenhower as new member schools for the 2014-15 school year.

“We were definitely hopeful and kind of had our fingers crossed,” Mann said about waiting for the vote. She said she also felt some relief after hearing the news because the petition was a calculated risk, and she didn’t want to take bad news back to the board.

The Decatur schools have had interest in the CS8 before — Eisenhower athletics director Greg Collingwood said it cropped up three or four years ago when he was still coaching — but Springfield High School athletics director Gary Dorr said this was the first time since he’s been involved in the conference that the CS8 got a formal petition.

Dorr also said it didn’t take long in Wednesday’s meeting to approve the addition of Eisenhower and MacArthur.

“I really think when we got to (Wednesday) it was an easy choice,” he said. “Until we got the formal application we couldn’t vote on it. The major discussion wasn’t today; it’s been previous.

“We were impressed that they were putting some money into their facilities. In our mind, that will make them stronger. It solidifies our conference, and geographically it’s just a really good fit.

“We think we’re one of the elite conferences — definitely in central Illinois, but southern Illinois also. MacArthur and Eisenhower have some programs that will fit in right at the top.”

But simply moving from the Big 12 to the CS8, however, won’t produce immediate dividends for the Decatur schools. The CS8 is equally as competitive of a conference as the Big 12, and the Decatur officials know that.

Rochester has won three straight Class 4A football titles under Derek Leonard, while dad Ken Leonard runs a football dynasty (13 straight playoff trips, three state titles since 2005) at Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin.

Springfield High went to state in girls basketball four of the last five years, and the CS8 is strong top to bottom on the boys side with Lincoln posting a losing record just once since the 1990-91 season.

Springfield Southeast has been a girls track power of late, Chatham Glenwood is tough in baseball and boys soccer and Jacksonville finished fourth in state in volleyball last fall and has a long tradition of winning.

Mann, Collingwood and Mel Roustio — the district’s athletics consultant — all said there’s plenty to do in-house to put the Decatur schools on the same competitive level as those in the CS8.

“The reality is we’re not going to go into the Central State Eight and suddenly become a dominant athletic force,” Collingwood said.

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