When Susquenita High School, currently a member of the Mid-Penn Conference, shifts into the Tri-Valley League next year it will bring about more change in the TVL than the addition of a new team.
Most of that is obvious and expected - a divisional structure, at least in football, where three District 11 schools will remain part of the conference. A third tennis team - a sport the all-sports conference doesn't currently recognize - as the third Perry County school to come aboard will join Juniata and Lancaster Country Day; presumably all three will continue to be independents in that sport, but will play one another.
But the most notable changes will happen in another spring sport: track and field.
The TVL, of late, has run home-and-home track meets among its members; while this offers easy scheduling, it limits the competition each team gets to see in season. Next year, the coaches say, each team will run every other team once, which means that the teams - Juniata and East Juniata most notably - will have the chance to run against other schools in their respective districts during the season.
This can only be a boost for the Indians (District 6) and the Tigers (District 4), who have a different postseason path than the rest of the conference.
Another reason the teams can't really run home-and-home is because the new kid on the block won't - and no one is unhappy about that. That's because Susquenita brings something new to the TVL: a synthetic-surface track. The school's all-weather facility has been the league's championship home for most of the past decade for just that reason.
The Blackhawks also join the two Juniatas to even the count of single-school programs in the conference. Both programs east of the Susquehanna are cooperatives - Upper Dauphin (Line Mountain) and Millersburg (Halifax), as is the Greenwood team, which is a joint effort with Newport.
The lack of access to artificial surface tracks already guides the scheduling in Juniata County. It's one of the reasons East Juniata goes to Mount Union, or Juniata picks up the Pine Grove and Bellwood invitational meets.
Juniata saw plenty of synthetic track in the Mountain League, but has been back to cinders since its return to the TVL. While there are advantages and disadvantages to both, the simple fact is that it's the surface the kids will have to run on when it matters most, in May.
I've wondered out loud here and there why the two schools - well, the school district - doesn't partner with the Lions Den to build a community-accessible track at the McAlisterville center. Practices could remain at the schools, but meets could be held at the common track, similar to the way Lewistown and Indian Valley shared what is now Mifflin County's track.
As far as cost, a track is one of the least expensive capital undertakings for a school district. And it usually benefits more students than any other sport - maybe more than any two sports. The trade-off in upkeep and maintenance balances the up-front expense, too.
Another question I've asked aloud once or twice this spring is why Midd-West and East Juniata don't try to form a cooperative in track, similar to the very successful one - at least from a personnel standpoint - they have in football.
For both schools, it would mean a climb into Class AAA for their girls teams; the Midd-West boys already are in the larger division and would drag the East Juniata boys with them.
But that may not be a bad thing - there are only eight schools in Class AAA in District 4; with the single guaranteed qualifier for states the odds are about the same as against the two dozen schools in Class AA.
For Midd-West, it would mean a track - something the school doesn't have, despite having a track team.
Unfortunately, since District 4 combined its two championship meets a few years ago, it would not mean that the schools could escape the occasional trip to Athens, Pa., where the District 4 meet is again this year.
Jeff Fishbein is sports editor of The Sentinel. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.