State College becomes full-time member of Mid-Penn

By Travis L. Pickens, Assistant Sports Editor The Sentinel – cumberlink.com |

Posted: Wednesday, January 26, 2011 10:51 pm

The big-school landscape of the Mid-Penn Conference is changing again.

This time, the effect will be felt on all sports, not just football.

In 2004, the Mid-Penn admitted four schools from District 6 – Altoona, Central Mountain, Hollidaysburg and State College – to be charter members for football only.

It took less than five years for three of the teams to leave the conference.

Central Mountain never played a down before exiting, and Hollidaysburg chose to leave following the 2005 season when the Blair County school dropped in classification from AAAA to AAA.

After the 2008 season, which included an ugly, penalty-filled game and postgame scuffle involving fans at Severance Field in Harrisburg, Altoona applied for membership in the Pittsburgh-based WPIAL. The Mountain Lions informed the Mid-Penn that 2009 would be their final season in the conference.

So that brings us to 2011, when State College is the lone District 6 team affiliated with the Mid-Penn.

And, after a vote by the conference’s board of directors last Thursday, the Centre County school will be part of the conference for all sports starting with the 2012-13 school year.

The Little Lions were unanimously voted into the conference as a full-fledged member.

“They’re a class act, they have excellent programs, and they cooperate with us,” Mid-Penn Executive Director Fred Isopi said. “The trip up there is better than going to Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia to pick up those games that (our schools) need.”

State College originally approached the Mid-Penn about becoming a member in all sports in November. The problem was, State College planned on joining for both varsity and middle-school sports.

“The board tabled that request because they thought it would present a problem as far as sending teams up there in mid-week,” Isopi said. “In talking with State College, we explained to them that was the problem.

“The middle-school plan wouldn’t work.”

In keeping with their reputation of being easy to work with, the State College officials submitted another letter asking to be a member for varsity only and were promptly admitted.

What conjures up memories of 2004, when more than one District 6 school joined, is the fact that it may be happening again.

Earlier this month, the Mifflin County School District decided to merge Indian Valley and Lewistown high schools starting with the 2011-12 school year.

The new school, which has been referred to as Mifflin County but doesn’t have an official name, would be a medium-sized Class AAAA school. According to current PIAA enrollment figures, Mifflin County would be a little larger than Carlisle High School.

The fact that Mifflin County will be so large didn’t sit well with the predominantly small-school Mountain League, which was the home of Indian Valley and Lewistown athletics, and the league voted to move on without the new school.

“The smaller schools were adamant, ‘We don’t want any part of it,'” Lewistown athletic director Rick Keefer told the Lewistown Sentinel. “They pretty much all canvassed their coaches, their administration … (and) they were afraid.”

Despite being burned in the past, the Mid-Penn isn’t afraid to admit Mifflin County as an all-sports member beginning in 2012-13.

The biggest advantage to admitting Mifflin County is the fact that it would bump the number of Mid-Penn football-playing schools to 32. The Mid-Penn then would be divided into four divisions of eight teams, with non-division games in the first three weeks of the season.

It would eliminate the awkward and hard-to-fill late-season bye week that some teams have dealt with.

“Schools have to travel all over the place to try to get those Week 8 or 10 games in,” Isopi said.

To be admitted into the Mid-Penn, Mifflin County must take the path State College traveled and submit a letter to the conference, asking to be added.

Isopi said the school has yet to approach the conference but he expects to hear one way or another by the end of February.

In terms of postseason play, the Mid-Penn has no control over where the District 6 schools will be slotted.

From 2004 through 2007, District 6 was part of a subregion with District 3 for football.

In recent years, State College football coach Al Wolski has made it known that he would rather qualify through District 3 than through the strange 6-8-9-10 subregional that the Little Lions have been a part of since 2008.

But that’s a situation for another day. There will be no movement in PIAA districts until 2012, when the next two-year cycle begins.

In the meantime, the Mid-Penn will go through the process of determining new divisions and devising new schedules with the knowledge that it will have one, and possibly two, more full-time members.

Unfortunately, the conference doesn’t have a great track record when it adds more than one District 6 school.

But, on the other hand, who’s to say Mifflin County won’t follow State College’s example and be a solid addition to the Mid-Penn?

“I think the positives outweigh the negatives, but it’s an unknown quality,” Isopi said. “We may be left out in the cold in two years. We can’t predict what will happen, but we’re hoping that isn’t the case.”

Sentinel file photo

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