Planned moves by Mid-Penn schools have no real impact on Mifflin County

With several schools bailing out on the Mid-Penn Conference in recent weeks, there will undoubtedly be more talk of whether Mifflin County – and by extension, State College – should stay with the powerful scholastic sports league.

But the fact that other – mostly smaller – schools are leaving may actually lead to an explanation as to why the two District 6 schools should stay.

And the reality is, those who want to see the Huskies pull out don’t really have a sound plan as to where they would go.

Gettysburg was first to leave the Mid-Penn, a decision made at the beginning of this year. The Colonial Division school is headed to the York-Adams league starting next fall, which will take that division down to seven teams and the Mid-Penn to 31.

The Mid-Penn’s perfect alignment – four divisions, eight teams each – took more hits as the calendar moved forward.

Susquenita left the Capital Division; it will be headed to the Tri-Valley League. That will put three of the four schools in Perry County in the TVL, where locals Juniata, East Juniata and Greenwood play.

But with the shocking revelation this month that Palmyra and as many as three other Keystone Division schools are set to leave the conference and form a new, smaller league, the suddenly impenetrable Mid-Penn seemed less secure.

The potential departures include West Shore School District teams Red Land and Cedar Cliff, crossover schools that have faced Mifflin County in some sports – although not football, which remains the driving force for all high school sports affiliations. When the conference realignment – minus the two who are leaving after this year – kicks in, it may have less of an effect locally.

Then came the revelation Sunday that Lower Dauphin was among the schools considering a change. Those schools are discussing a 10-school league within a 25-mile radius around Harrisburg that would begin play in 2016. Assuming no new members, that would be 26 schools remaining in the Mid-Penn – the bigger schools Mifflin County needs to play.

The bottom line is, Mifflin County has a schedule in the Mid-Penn. It has a schedule against quad-A schools – schools that are not only in the same classification, but are willing and able to make the trek from as far as Chambersburg to Lewistown and State College for games.

It was maybe a week into the local Mid-Penn history that I heard a pitch for a “new” Mountain League (apparently, someone thought the old one was going away). But there are just so many big schools in this part of the state, and too many of them have other interests.

Altoona and Williamsport (District 4) prefer their independence. Central Mountain is moving into the Heartland Conference. Even if they did agree to form a new league, there are but three other Class AAAA schools nearby: State College, DuBois (District 9) and the Huskies.

That’s not enough for a conference, and anyone else in the class is just too far away.

In District 6, Hollidaysburg – the biggest Class AAA school – is in the middle of the triple-A range; Clearfield, the largest in District 9, is small in its class. Neither district is flush with schools in either of the top two classifications.

And the small schools want no part of the bigger schools – look at how quickly the Mountain League rolled up the welcome mat when Mifflin County was formed.

Realistically, if you want an alternative – and it’s not a good one – it would be for Mifflin County to try and follow Central Mountain into the dominant conference in District 4. But that would mean at most two Class AAAA football opponents – assuming independent Williamsport stays on the schedule – and four Class AAA opponents.

Odds are, at least one if not two division games would be Class AA schools, which can only hurt Mifflin County for points. And if it’s just those larger six, that still leaves almost half the schedule waiting to be filled.

One of Mifflin County’s coaches made an astute observation after his team’s first Mid-Penn season, a rough one – the attitude of what constitutes success needs to change. Better to be a .500 team in the tournament than winning 3/4 of your games and being dispatched in the first round of districts.

Or in simpler terms, you can’t beat the best if you don’t play the best.

Jeff Fishbein is sports editor of The Sentinel. Contact him at