FULTON — As long as the Three Rivers Conference has existed, Fulton High School has been a member in good standing.
When the Three Rivers formed in 1975, Fulton was one of the eight original schools, coming over from the Illowa Conference along with Morrison, Riverdale, Savanna (now part of the West Carroll district) and Sterling Newman.
Over the past 45 years, Steamer athletic teams have represented themselves well both against TRAC competition and on a statewide level, with the chief examples being their Class 2A state-championship football teams of 1976 and 1991.
However, that era could soon draw to a close.
Just over a month ago, the Northwest Upstate Illini Conference reached out to Fulton to gauge its interest in becoming a member of the NUIC. Earlier this week, a meeting of the River Bend Board of Education revealed interest in making such a move.
"The NUIC reached out to see if we would be interested in joining their conference, but no formal invitation has been extended yet," said Fulton assistant principal and athletic director Patrick Henrekin. "We told that to the board, and we talked about comparing and contrasting the TRAC and the NUIC, enrollments and travel times.
"There was definitely some interest; the board this past Monday night was in favor of accepting an invitation if one was extended. We play a lot of NUIC teams already, so they're not at all foreign to us."
In addition to this past Monday's board meeting, Henrekin has already been in contact with Steamer coaches to gauge their level of interest.
"We've started collecting data and have talked with our coaches," he said. "They're all interested in moving forward and deciding what's best for us."
According to Henrekin, the NUIC may contact Fulton at the beginning of fall, at which time a formal invitation to join could be extended.
"We're 100% going to be in the TRAC this year," he stated. "But if we were to switch, we'd go from being one of the smallest schools in the TRAC to one of the largest in the NUIC. That was definitely be a factor in any decision."
If Fulton does decide to change leagues, it will be following the previous example of Savanna and Amboy, which left the Three Rivers for the NUIC in 1999 and 2016, respectively.
Over the past 25 years, the TRAC has grown in size and territory with Bureau Valley joining upon its creation in 1995, plus the additions of Olympic Conference stalwarts Orion, Rockridge and Sherrard and former North Central Illinois Conference members Kewanee, Peru St. Bede, Princeton and Spring Valley Hall.
Still, deciding whether or not to remain in a conference it has been a part of from day one will not be an easy one.
In addition to the two aforementioned state-title football teams, Fulton has produced a third-place 1A state finisher in baseball (2015), a state-qualifying boys' golf squad (1982) and a state-quarterfinalist volleyball team (2003) in its Three Rivers tenure.
"I've been a part of this league first as a player and (boys' basketball) coach at Prophetstown and now as A.D. here at Fulton," said Henrekin, a 2005 Prophetstown graduate. "But, the conference I played and coached in, it's much different now than in the past, with all of the added teams.
"We don't want to make a quick decision with this. We want to take the time and do our due diligence and do what's best for our student-athletes."