COVE - A one time member of the Tri-Valley League that has been part of the Mid-Penn Conference since its inception is exploring a return to its roots.
The Susquenita School District Board of Directors voted by a 6-1 margin at its March 12 meeting to allow athletic director Greg Wagner to begin discussions with TVL officials on possibly switching conferences.
Susquenita is at the confluence of the two high school sports conferences, bordering three Mid-Penn teams and two from the TVL.
Three area schools - Juniata, East Juniata and Greenwood - are in the TVL. Mifflin County and western Snyder County schools also have been in the conference in the past.
Wagner cited middle school scheduling, declining district enrollment and the Mid-Penn's deaf ear to the needs of its smaller members as driving factors for the proposed switch.
Susquenita once was a Class AAA school, but high school enrollment has fallen by about 200 students over the last three decades. The TVL is comprised almost entirely of Class A and Class AA schools, which would place Susquenita on a more even playing field.
If it joins the TVL, it will supplant Juniata as the largest school in the league based on current-cycle PIAA population, but not by much - the Indians had 452 eligible students in the last survey, while the Perry County school had 488. Upper Dauphin (312) and football-only member Pine Grove (388) are the only others above 300 out of the 11 members.
Susquenita's frustration starts at the middle school level, where it is in the same division as Cumberland Valley, Cedar Cliff and Trinity. Neither the middle school basketball nor field hockey programs won a game last year; in the last four junior high basketball contests against Cumberland Valley, Susquenita was outscored a combined 176-23.
Wagner said his main concern was putting the schools' athletes in position to be competitive, boost school spirit and avoid discouraging kids. He noted that since 2006 varsity teams have a combined record of 605-921-12, and the boys soccer team has had only two winning seasons in its 20 years of existence.
Susquenita's representative on the Mid-Penn board, William Quigley, said the conference is focused on the larger schools - 26 of its 32 members are in the two highest competition classifications in sports that have four.
Before the vote took place, coaches, athletes and parents spent nearly two hours debating the subject.
Only one coach - field hockey coach Claudio Valeri - was completely opposed, due to the lack of artificial turf fields in the TVL. Echoing a concern expressed when Juniata transferred into the Mountain League for two years, Valeri added parents were opposed to the move due to driving distances to TVL schools.
The boys and girls track coaches expressed concern about facilities, as no TVL school has a synthetic track.
Football coach Bart Miller said he felt athletics played a huge part in the life blood of the school and that winning can boost the attitude of the entire student body. He noted the football team has had 12 seasons with three wins or fewer since joining the Mid-Penn in 1982, and that the school does not have the numbers to compete in the league going forward. He also said Susquenita is more culturally in tune with TVL schools.
Wrestling coach Rusty Wallace Sr. said he was against the move when it was discussed previously, but has reconsidered. He said his team will still be able to wrestle familiar Mid-Penn opponents in non-league matches.
Adding Susquenita would give the TVL 11 football teams, including three District 11 schools that are associate members in that sport only. Wagner predicted the league would likely go to a divisional format in that sport if Susquenita joins.
Susquenita was in the TVL in the 1950s before joining the Blue Mountain League in 1959. The Blue Mountain folded into the broader-sweeping Mid-Penn in 1982.
Separately, Midd-West athletic director Bree Solomon addressed rumors that the Snyder County school might return to the TVL by stating there is no plan for the district to do so. She said it has not been discussed and will not be until it would be beneficial for all Midd-West teams.
Midd-West predecessors Middleburg and West Snyder were longtime members of the TVL and the school stayed in the conference briefly after it was formed by a 2004 merger. But the school moved with the creation of the Heartland Athletic Conference, which encompasses most of the schools in the southern portion of District 4.