Northern York School District superintendent Eric Eshbach knew that the school board's vote on applying to join the York-Adams League, or stay put in the Mid-Penn Conference, was going to be 5-4, one way or the other.
When the board members cast their votes during Thursday's school board meeting, his prediction was correct, with the members voting 5-4 in favor of staying in the Mid-Penn Conference and opting against applying to become the 24th member of the Y-A League. The change, if had met with approval by the Y-A League schools, would've gone into effect before the start of the 2018-19 school year.
Now, however, the Polar Bears will stay right where they are.
"I think the board has definitely done its research on this," Eshbach said following the meeting. "They talked to a lot of people, looked at the coaches' surveys that were sent out, talked to a lot of parents, so after our committee meeting on Tuesday night, I got a sense that it was a split decision. I knew it was going to be a 5-4 vote, I didn't know which way it would go."
Split board: Eshbach read a prepared statement to begin the meeting, and then after going through most of the agenda in a quick manner, heavy discussion began once it got to the vote on the potential move. Board member Gregory Hlatky spoke in favor of the move, saying that: "One way or another, whatever happens with this vote tonight, this decision isn't going to change the direction of our student-athletes."
He said that he spoke to athletes at Northern York High School and, while they fully understood that, in some sports, Northern would face stiffer competition in the Y-A League than in the Mid-Penn, the athletes were ready for that challenge and it wouldn't affect them at all.
John Price also spoke in favor of the move to the Y-A League simply because, in past years, the Mid-Penn Conference hasn't listened to any of the requests made by Northern athletic director Gerry Schwille to help make things more practical for the school. Schwille wasn't in attendance for Thursday's meeting.
The original plan was to have this vote happen at the April board meeting, but, according to Eshbach, the board had to move the vote up to Thursday night because the Y-A League was going to have its expansion vote in April before Northern would have its scheduled April board meeting.
Among those who spoke out against the move, and voted in favor of staying put in the Mid-Penn, was David Reeder. He based his decision on the people he represents from his district and on the coaches' surveys. He said he saw that very few coaches had any real problems with the Mid-Penn Conference that would make it essential to change leagues.
"I have tremendous respect for the York-Adams League and even the competition," Reeder said. "But, from my point of view and everyone who's approached me from my district, was not in favor of (the move). Then, it becomes an issue of, 'Am I voting for myself, or am I voting for the people I represent?' and I had no one that I talked with who was in favor of the move."
Long history: Northern York was one of the original members of the Mid-Penn Conference when it began before the 1982-83 school year.
However, this wasn't the first time the school has looked at potentially leaving the conference in favor of the Y-A League.
Northern last explored a move back in 2013, when it was one of eight Mid-Penn member schools that considered severing ties with the conference. Northern elected to stick with the conference, being promised some changes, but those changes were minimal.
Among the changes requested was creating some sort of cohesion within the four divisions that make up the Mid-Penn Conference. As it stands, the teams in certain divisions vary from sport to sport, causing all sorts of difficulties, not just for Northern, but other schools, as well.
Three-month process: When Schwille first broached this topic back in January, one of his main concerns was with travel.
In the Mid-Penn, Northern has been forced into divisions with schools that share no geographic similarities to Northern, prompting the school to travel more than 60 miles to face schools such as State College, Waynesboro, Greencastle-Antrim and James Buchanan. That has led to increased travel costs, as well as more missed class time for student-athletes because they have to leave school earlier.
On the flip side, when Schwille and Eshbach presented this information to the public at two community information meetings in late February and early March, they highlighted how close many of the Y-A League schools are to Dillsburg.
Had Northern been admitted into the Y-A League, it would've most likely been put into Division II. Within that division, it would've faced schools such as Dover, West York, Northeastern and Gettysburg, all within 25 miles of Northern. The farthest Northern would've had to travel to face a divisional foe would've been Kennard-Dale, which is 58 miles, but still closer than several schools Northern faces on an annual basis in the Mid-Penn.
"As I stated with my comments up front, now we have a decision and we move forward," Eshbach said. "As far as I'm concerned, we're a Mid-Penn team and we will compete in the Mid-Penn, we'll compete at a high level and move forward from here. I'm done looking at switching leagues."
— Reach Patrick Strohecker at email@example.com