The Laurel Highlands Athletic Conference completed a 13-0 unanimous vote among its members to expand to a 27-member, multi-region conference on Monday.
“The Laurel Highlands Athletic Conference voted today to extend invitations to 14 area school districts to join the LHAC for the 2023-24 season,” LHAC chairman Scott Close said. “Five of the school districts (Meyersdale, North Star, Berlin Brothersvalley, Conemaugh Township and Windber) approved a move to the LHAC in February. The invitation will be on an upcoming board agenda for the other nine schools. Those nine schools are Tyrone, Bellwood-Antis, Huntingdon, Clearfield, Philipsburg-Osceola, Bellefonte, Bald Eagle Area, Penns Valley and Hollidaysburg, which was invited for all sports except football.”
The move would bring an end to the Mountain League in all sports and the WestPAC in football. Lewistown and Indian Valley were longtime members of the Mountain League, which briefly counted Juniata on its roster.
“In District 6, you have the (Inter-County) and the Heritage Conference,” District 6 chairman Bill Marshall said. “Those schools are in conferences that have been established for a long time, and I know that those schools also reached out to some of these schools about expansion (Conemaugh Valley made a commitment to leave the WestPAC for the Heritage recently). Ultimately, you have the history and the stability of the ICC and the Heritage Conference that moving forward, we’ll be more or less a three-conference district and we’ll be able to fill each other’s schedule without anyone being put on an island.”
Bellwood-Antis will try to get board approval in April. Hollidaysburg athletic director Homer DeLattre said his school will put an approval to a board vote on March 16. Tyrone athletic director Luke Rhoades said he preferred not to comment until any move was official.
Hollidaysburg is competing in the Mountain League this season for the first time in all sports except football.
The current members of the LHAC are Bedford, Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic, Bishop McCort, Central, Central Cambria, Chestnut Ridge, Forest Hills, Johnstown, Penn Cambria, Richland, Somerset, Westmont Hilltop and Bishop Carroll in all sports except football, though the Huskies are currently in a co-op with member school McCort.
According to Close, the league will be regionalized to create yearly rivalries and minimize travel, with championships between sections in certain sports, along with league wide championships in individual events, and it is also the goal of the league to include academic competitions along with this expansion.
As the District 6 chairman, Marshall supports the expansion because it provides stability in his eyes.
“We had a number of WestPAC schools and Mountain League schools that could not fill their schedules as they stood alone,” Marshall said. “This expansion is creating schedule stability for these 27 schools for many years to come. We’re seeing it at the District 6 level that more and more schools because of declining numbers have been forced to enter into co-ops in multiple sports, and they are doing that as a last resort right before the season starts. A bigger conference allows the conference to absorb the loss of a school entering into a co-op.”