Mid-Penn prepares MC

Mifflin County’s third season as a member of the Mid-Penn Conference is about to begin, and I’m sure the most asked question will be whether the still-fledgling high school should be there.

The strongest argument I’ve heard against the affiliation is that most of the regular-season contests are being played against District 3 opponents, and that we are in District 6. Fair enough.

My anwser to that has always been that you’ll have to beat District 3 – and/or the WPIAL (District 7) – sooner or later, or you aren’t going to wear the crown at the end of the ball.

Still, having completed a cycle, it’s fair to look at the league and the Huskies’ membership in it, and ask if that should remain.

Before the first game was played against a Commonwealth Division opponent, I made the observation that teams already doing well in Mifflin County would continue to do so – and that teams struggling would also stay the same, albeit with a harder road to travel. And that’s played out pretty much that way. There have been a few surprises – the baseball team’s struggles perhaps the most notable in an area where the sport is king.

And it’s fair to note that the better teams have not uniformly suffered their losses to Mid-Penn opponents.

Could the situation with the league be better? Sure – Mifflin County is playing with some of the biggest schools in the state. Of course, it is one of those big schools now (and yes, I know, there still are more than a few people who remain unhappy about that).

For the most part, it comes down to one choice: Do you want to beat up on a bunch of small schools for eight weeks, go to the playoffs and lose? Or do you want to be battle tested through eight weeks that include as many downs as ups, adversity that prepares you for the next stage?

Success against Class AAAA’s best will not come overnight – but it won’t come at all without preparation.

I’m admittedly torn over the desire to build successful teams by pushing kids into single sports from an early age. But I also believe the turnout for some of Mifflin County’s teams could be higher. I tend to attribute that more to the changing nature of youth – I constantly find myself pulling electronic gadgets out of the hands of my own son, and encourage him to be more active.

Depth, I believe, is as important to a team’s success as strength.

I’ve noted here previously that we can’t just magically conjure up a new conference that consists of District 6 teams. Schools that are in the two largest classifications are few – seven total, including Mifflin County. It would take an awful lot of work to persuade all of them to form a new league, and might not get you what you want anyway.

The closest to an alternative would still require Mifflin County to leave District 6 for most of its games – the Huskies could follow Central Mountain into the Heartland Athletic Conference, where there are enough large Class AAA competitors that a small Class AAAA (such as Mifflin County or Central Mountain) is welcome. And, some of those teams are as formidable as the Mid-Penn opponents we see now.

Maybe the real problem is not in Mifflin County, but in Mechanicsburg – the PIAA’s organizational structure doesn’t do a good job of taking into account the shifting education landscape in Pennsylvania. The classifications themselves could be redivided, not necessarily using the proportional system we have now, but using a Bell Curve as a guide. Districts could be redrawn based on where the schools are, or even drawn differently based on classification.

But that requires the agreement of most of the districts, and the two largest – those two mentioned above – are unlikely to support change in a system that benefits them and aids their success.

So where will Mifflin County end up? A lot of that will depend on the passion of the athletes – and the compassion of the community – for what admittedly seems like it will be a long year ahead.

Jeff Fishbein is sports editor of The Sentinel. Contact him at jfishbein@lewistownsentinel.com.