Mountain League schools set to fold into Laurel Highlands Athletic Conference

Four Center County schools are set to move into a larger conference, with planning underway to fold the Mountain League into the Laurel Highlands Athletic Conference.

In March, the four Center County school districts – Bald Eagle, Bellefonte, Penns Valley and Philipsburg-Osceola – were offered an invitation to join the LHAC, along with Bellwood-Antis, Clearfield, Hollidaysburg, Huntingdon and Tyrone. Each team is set to join the conference for the 2023-2024 school year for a four-year commitment.

Scott Close, Somerset athletic director and LHAC conference director, met with current members of his conference nearly a year ago, along with members of the West Pac Conference, the Mountain League and Bellwood-Antis, a member of the Inter County Conference. His school and other programs looked to ensure that teams could improve their level of competition and keep travel within the central and western portions of Pennsylvania, while also filling out the schedules.

“It was a meeting by a lot of the school leaders of numerous conferences to ensure that we had enough teams so that we should be able to have competitions in all sports,” Close said. “Football drives everything, and with many conferences dropping below ten teams, (current members) needed to have a full schedule. It was just a way to get all schools together so that we can basically help each other out. “

Bald Eagle, Bellefonte, Penns Valley and Philipsburg-Osceola have each agreed to the change.

The offer to join the conference was an unexpected one for Bald Eagle Athletic Director Doug Dyke, though he said it made sense. With District 6 being three leagues – the LHAC, the ICC and the Heritage Conference, along with a few splinter schools, folding the Mountain League into the LHAC added an opportunity to compete in a level higher than even the district championship.

“We always thought that they wouldn’t be interested because they were pretty self-contained,” Dyke said of the LHAC. “But you have some pretty progressive thinkers and athletic directors and some administrators that thought for their league and in the future for District 6 that we needed to think bigger.”

The hope for Dyke is that it gives his program a “full football schedule” and to crossover with teams that the program would see in the playoffs. There aren’t expected to be many schedule changes.

“Even for football, your schedule is not going to change much,” Dyke said. “In every sport, you’re probably going to see 2-4 opponents that maybe you didn’t see in the past. But once it’s finalized, we’re going to share with everyone how the schedules are going to look. We’ve had two mini-scheduling meetings with a smaller group of athletic directors and a couple of administrators. “

A meeting on Monday via Zoom will finalize some of the scheduling for each sport, with more details to come.

Bald Eagle football head coach Jesse Nagle said he’s excited for the new competition. The Eagles went 8-3 last season, finishing with a 5-1 conference record. Their other two losses came outside of league play.

Nagle welcomes the opportunity to test Bald Eagle’s might against other local foes.

“You look at it and say, ‘The Mountain League was very very strong a couple of years ago,’” Nagle said. “’They have always had very strong teams this year. They have numerous Division I kids in that conference. ‘ I guess it goes in cycles, but at the end of the day, there’s perennial powerhouses in this conference. State contenders, district contenders every single year or different champions every year out of each conferences. So, you combine two mass conferences with the winning traditions that have happened at those programs. It should be a pretty fun conference to see what goes on. “

Many of the schools have a familiarity with one another, playing each other in the state playoffs and other seeding games. One such battle was between Penns Valley and Richland in the boys basketball District 6 Class 3A semifinal on Feb. 26, a Saturday matchup. More non-football games will be played on non-school nights with football already set mostly on Friday evenings.

During an April 6 Bellefonte Area School District board of education meeting, Bellefonte Athletic Director Deb Moore said there will be different accommodations for each school, due to certain differences with rules. One such rule is whether a ninth grade student-athlete plays varsity in one sport or junior varsity in another.

“It better classifies the teams, it has more of an affect on football,” Moore said at the board meeting. “We’ll play like schools with like classifications. You can’t play down two classifications or up. But it’s more regionalized for other sports. We’re not going to send our kids to Johnstown on a school night. Basically what it is – a bigger conference, more regionalized, football may be further out because we play one night a week and it’s on a Friday night and the junior high and JV (junior varsity) will stay the same. “

There are several different options for football – one that would include a North, South, East and West division with the division winners taking on each other in the semifinals and a battle between the winner of each semifinal in the conference championship game, according to Moore . Non-athletic competitions could possibly be involved, including academic games between the schools.

Current members of the LHAC are Bedford, Bishop Carroll Catholic – in each sport except for football – Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic, Bishop McCort Catholic, Central, Central Cambria, Chestnut Ridge, Forest Hills, Greater Johnstown, Penn Cambria, Richland, Somerset and Westmont Hilltop .

This story was originally published May 4, 2022 3:03 PM.

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Kyle J. Andrews is a 2018 graduate of the University of Baltimore, home of the perennially undefeated Bees. Prior to heading to the Center Daily Times, he spent times as a sports reporter for the Baltimore Sun Media Group, covering the Ravens and Orioles for 105.7 The Fan, Baltimore Beatdown and Fox Sports 1340 AM.

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