For the past several years, Northern York athletic director Gerry Schwille has sat down with members of the Northern York School Board about a potential move from the Mid-Penn Conference into the York-Adams League.
None of those talks, however, have ever progressed nearly as far as they have now. Monday night, Schwille and district superintendent Eric Eshbach held a general information meeting at the middle school to lay out some of the reasons for the potential switch. The meeting also gave community members the opportunity to voice questions, comments or concerns. The potential change would be for the two-year cycle beginning for the 2018-19 school year.
"I thought things went exactly like we anticipated," Schwille said after the meeting. "A lot of questions, and then seeing who we compete against and the level of competition, I think that's the message that we wanted to get across."
Points of interest: Schwille laid out on what a potential league switch could mean. He focused on the idea that switching leagues would help Northern develop and keep consistent and healthy rivalries.
Northern, which is one of the original members of the Mid-Penn dating back to 1983, rarely has that across all sports because of the constant realignment of divisions within the Mid-Penn. Thirty teams make up the Mid-Penn, and, according to Schwille, the athletic programs at Northern play the other 29 members every year in at least one sport.
Even if Northern moves to the Y-A League, certain geographical rivals, including Mechanicsburg, Carlisle, Trinity and East Pennsboro, could remain on the Polar Bears' schedule as non-league foes. Schwille believes that switching to the Y-A League would create more consistent rivalries across all sports. That's because the Y-A League divides its divisions by enrollment size, something that the Mid-Penn Conference has veered away from in recent years, instead sometimes moving teams from division to division based on strength of the program or geography.
"You want to play like schools, philosophically and enrollment-wise," Schwille said. "Those are the kind of schools you want to play over and over, and the York league gives us that because then you can create those rivalries, which are the same sports over and over again, year in and year out. It's not this every four years I move a whole division and all those relationships I build up, now they're gone and I have to create them with new schools."
In attendance at the meeting were about 40-50 community members, along with several of the high school athletic coaches and five of the nine members of the school board. While there wasn't any outright opposition among the community members who spoke out, they did ask Schwille, Eshbach and the board members to consider certain points before going ahead with the move.
One of the major selling points Schwille has been trying to make for the switch is the reduced travel time. Right now, in several sports, Northern has to travel more than 60 miles to schools such as State College, Mifflin County, James Buchanan, Greencastle and Waynesboro. In the Y-A League, the farthest trip would be to Kennard-Dale, which is 58 miles. However, one community member mentioned that, even though some of the current schools are farther by mileage, they might be easier and quicker to get to, rather than trying to get to K-D, Susquehannock or Eastern York.
Another topic brought up by Schwille was the perceived notion that the Mid-Penn is historically a stronger conference than the Y-A League in most sports. What he hoped to make clear was that in some sports that can be argued as true, but there are other sports where the Y-A League is much stronger in than the Mid-Penn, such as both boys' and girls' volleyball and cross country.
Coaches' opinions: One coach who was in attendance, field hockey coach Marcie Frey, is one of the few coaches at the school who can actually make a case against changing leagues because field hockey has been one of the few stable sports within the Mid-Penn. It hasn't changed divisions in more than six years, has one of the lowest average travel distances and faces much stiffer competition than it would face in the Y-A League.
"I'm kind of neutral," she said. "Whatever is best for the student body as student-athletes as a whole. Our division in field hockey is fairly close. ... So, travel time for us isn't terrible, but I can understand why some of the other sports up there in divisions, where they're going much farther away, how it can impact them."
Northern doesn't have a turf athletic field, which has led to many schools to avoid scheduling Northern's field hockey team in non-league competitions. Frey knows that would be something the Y-A League schools wouldn't be happy about. Turf is the preferred field for field hockey.
The Northern boys' basketball team actually faced five Y-A League teams this past season, going 2-3. Among those teams, four of them were Division II teams, which is the division that Northern would most likely fall into for most sports if it was to join the Y-A League.
Head boys' basketball coach Kyle McGill understands that basketball is one of the Y-A League's stronger sports, but would be more open to facing stiffer competition at the risk of losing a couple more games per year, rather than coasting through a non-competitive division in the Mid-Penn.
"It doesn't do us any good to walk through our league and end up in districts and get beat in the first or second round because you're not prepared to play," he said. "Talking to our coaches and our guys, playing in the York league, where there's much more tradition of basketball, will allow us to get prepared for districts, and if we're good enough to be competitive in that league and make it to districts, then we'll be more suited to actually do something in the district tournament."
The school district will hold another general information meeting at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 7, at the middle school, followed by a discussion at the March board meeting. A vote on the potential move could come during the April board meeting.
— Reach Patrick Strohecker at firstname.lastname@example.org