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New Look Mid-Penn

Over the past several decades, high school athletic competition has seen some significant shifts regarding the makeup of individual conferences. Most prominent have been the formations of the Central Susquehanna Conference (CSC) and the Pennsylvania Heartland Athletic Conference (PHAC), both multi-tiered leagues, intended to be one-size-fits-all associations comprised of schools of many PIAA size classifications.

Over the past several decades, high school athletic competition has seen some significant shifts regarding the makeup of individual conferences. Most prominent have been the formations of the Central Susquehanna Conference (CSC) and the Pennsylvania Heartland Athletic Conference (PHAC), both multi-tiered leagues, intended to be one-size-fits-all associations comprised of schools of many PIAA size classifications.

Perhaps operating under the rationale that bigger is not always better, several smaller basketball playing schools kept the Mid-Penn Conference afloat; with one school athletic director even commenting that some of the schools would be wanting to come back to the league. There has been some prophecy in that prediction as the 2020-2021 basketball season’s intended opening was to unveil a new look.

“Prior to our recent expansion, we were a conference of nine schools,” explained longtime conference member Allen Turner, now serving as the league’s secretary. “For a few years, there had been rumors about other schools showing interest in the conference that had been a part of the Heartland Conference, but Northwest and South Williamsport were the only ones to make formal membership requests.

“Northwest’s interest had to do with the size of the Wyoming Valley Conference where they were competing. Most of the schools in that league are AAA and AAAA, with Northwest’s enrollment classified as a low AA. They had thought that the Mid-Penn had a football league, but when they realized it did not, they joined the Northern Tier League for football this past fall.

“South Williamsport was a school that had been in the Mid-Penn before they joined the Heartland Conference. They expressed interest in rejoining the league. Like Northwest, they play football as part of the Northern Tier.”

Since its beginning, Turner, a former basketball coach and athletic director at Benton High School, has been associated with the league. He explained the procedures involved in admitting new members.

“To gain admittance into the Mid-Penn Conference, a school must have three-quarters of the member school’s approval. The Mid-Penn offers a “cafeteria/buffet style” membership where a school can pick the leagues they want to be a part of. This differs from other conferences that require once you become a member, all a school’s various sports must fully compete in the conference.”

For basketball, the Mid-Penn Conference is divided into two five-team divisions, the East and the West. East Divisions schools include Benton, Columbia-Montour Vo-Tech, Millville, Northwest, and Sullivan County. The West Division is comprised of Bucktail, Montgomery, Muncy, South Williamsport, and St. John Neumann. The schools play the teams in their division twice and face the other division once, giving them a 13-game league schedule. This format permits schools to play nine non-conference games of their choosing.

The conference has 11 member schools. Sugar Valley Charter School competes as a Mid-Penn Conference wrestling school.

“We formed the divisions with respect to geographic location,” Turner added. “In doing so, we recognized travel is an issue for both administrations and athletic directors, especially when you consider the locations of Bucktail and Northwest. Bucktail has been very congenial about trying to schedule Saturday games for a team like Northwest. We’ve also discussed playing some earlier time slots, so rather than starting at 6:00 p.m., we might start at 5:00 p.m., depending on what night it is. So, we are open to some rearranging to make that work.

“Although the size of member schools has been talked about, the league has nothing in writing stating that we are going to be a Class A or AA league. The thinking is we have a process that allows a school to apply for conference membership. The conference was begun as a basketball conference, so there has to be some reassurance that member schools are going to play basketball. So, any school that may want to become a member would have to receive the three-quarters vote, and in some instances that could be very difficult.”

Depending on how things may be played out regarding the pandemic, the league has tentative plans to hold a league championship game for both boys’ and girls’ basketball on February 19. The games would be played at Montgomery, bringing together the first-place teams from each division. Should indoor seating still be limited, the gym would be cleared between the girl’s game at 5:00 p.m. and the boy’s game at 7:30 p.m.

Regarding a league start-up, once some restrictions are lifted, the league intends to pick-up the league schedule as it was originally constituted, Turner hopes.

“The league feels that it will be better to pick-up the existing schedule and have the teams try and reschedule the games they have already missed, based upon the individual school’s circumstances. This is mainly because of game officials. Once we start shifting games around, it would greatly complicate the availability of officials. Right now, those game dates are locked into official’s schedules, so pending the pandemic or weather problems, that would be one worry we won’t have to deal with.”

It is expected that the conference’s Junior High School basketball teams will follow the same scheduling format once games are permitted to resume.

Like all other area high schools and their fans, the Mid-Penn Conference is eager to get started, especially with their new-look format.

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