Be careful predicting the future


In 2011, I compiled a lengthy feature on declining enrollments in northwest Illinois and the impact it was having on participation in sports.

A total of 60 high schools from northwest Illinois were analyzed with enrollment in 1966 and again in 2011. There was a 34-percent drop from 9,908 students to 6,529 in that 45-year period.

Some of the reasons given were loss of industry, decline of family farms, lack of adequate transportation and globalization.

There was also growth, with location being a key component. Byron, Genoa-Kingston, North Boone, Stillman Valley and Winnebago all added students. Being close to Interstate 90 and Rockford helped fuel that growth. The Exelon plant also put Byron on the map.

In 1966, Oregon (490) and Mt. Morris (340) each had more students than Byron (200), Stillman (285) and ‘Bago (325). Today, the combined enrollment of Oregon/Mt. Morris is less than each of those schools.

If you took Forreston and Leaf River collectively in 1966 and combined them in 2011, you’d see a 34-percent drop, while Polo fell 16 percent. Even Rochelle, with its robust business climate only saw a seven-percent increase from 1966-2011.

High-school enrollment topped out in the mid 1970s with the peak of the Baby Boomer generation was making its way through.

What about enrollment trends from 2011 to 2024?

Byron 556 to 449 (-19%). Forreston 252 to 239 (-5%). Oregon 529 to 417 (-21%). Polo 277 to 178 (-36%). Rochelle 961 to 861 (-10%). Stillman 615 to 504 (-18%).

As expected, sizes of sports teams continue to decline, though Ogle County schools are likely ahead of the statewide norm for percentage of students involved in extra-curriculars.

Don’t expect these figures to improve, as a more serious issue than jobs, transportation, farms and globalization has come to the forefront. That is a declining birth rate as people are having fewer children than ever before.

With how complicated life has become, it is a lot harder to be a parent now compared to earlier generations when kids didn’t need to be supervised as much and there wasn’t a morass of safety regulations hanging over them.

In the old days, mom and dad didn’t have to worry about chaperoning kids, driving them everywhere, ponying up mucho dollars for traveling sports teams or buying designer clothing.

Times used to be more optimistic, with a stronger desire of wanting to bring children into the world.

Today’s message is more about pessimism. Why subject a child to an environment of doom and gloom, some so-called experts espouse. Another school of thought is that life is better enjoyed without the responsibility of raising children.

It is a free world and I certainly am not going to get into the debate on this matter. But, we need to be careful about what the authority figures are telling us. There were grave warnings in 1970 about over-population and how we would all soon be starving.

A half century later, that dire alarm has taken a 180-degree turn, as more people are dying than being born.

Instead of too many people on planet Earth, now we have the problem of not enough of them. It goes to show that no one can predict the future.

What does this mean for the local high-school sports scene?

If trends hold true, teams will continue to have a harder time filling rosters. We have already seen quality of play go down in some sports because of limited competition for starting spots or not as much talent.

However, as past lessons have taught us, we must be careful in predicting the future.

Andy Colbert is a longtime Ogle County resident with years of experience covering sports and more for multiple area publications.