Northern eyes 'culture change' in possible move to YAIAA
There are 23 football coaches in the YAIAA, and 18 of them are in their fifth year or less in that position. Zach Miller - GameTimePA.com
As the Northern York County School District considers a huge shift in joining the YAIAA, coaches there wonder about the uncertainty of the unknown.
Monday night, roughly 50 people attended the first of two public informational meetings on the possible move, which could become finalized this spring. Northern is one of the founding members of the larger but more far-flung Mid Penn Conference.
The public meetings included a report from athletic director Gerry Schwille and Supt. Eric Eshbach.
Many of the attendees were coaches and board members in the school district, which is centered around Dillsburg.
They listened to details of why a move to the 23-member YAIAA would be beneficial, including a cut in travel time, playing more opponents of equal enrollment size and more stability in divisional play.
While no one voiced adamant disapproval to the possible switch Monday, some asked about the unfamiliarity of competing in a new league across the board, including junior varsity and middle school sports. Other concerns revolved around travel, losing long-standing rivals and developing new relationships.
While a shift to the YAIAA would force the Polar Bears to face a stiff upgrade in competition like volleyball and even basketball, it could potentially be a downgrade in sports such as wrestling and field hockey.
Patrick Hicks has served as a football and basketball assistant for the past decade and graduated from Northern in 1995. His brother played sports there in the mid-1980s. Ultimately, he said he backs the move, adding that Northern already plays Dover in basketball and holds scrimmages against Dover and West York in football.
"It's just a culture change that we have to wrap our heads around as a community," Hicks said. "I just have to change my mindset" from being used to playing the Harrisburg and Hershey-area schools he grew up knowing.
Head baseball coach Brian Robison led the only state title-winning team in Northern history, that coming in 2011. Change is big, he said, because most Northern York residents either grew up in the district or moved in from Harrisburg area — not north from York and its surrounding communities.
"I'm really on the fence," he said. "I think the biggest thing is going to be the cultural change, what our parents and families have to get used to. ... It's change and the fear of the unknown and playing strange schools.
"One of my fears is that we would be more of an outsider down there than we would be in the Mid Penn."
Schwille and Eshbach said they were pleased by feedback at the meeting, saying one of the biggest hurdles to overcome is making sure coaches, parents, athletes and other administrators understand that the competition in the YAIAA, especially in their expected home of Division II, will be comparable to the Mid Penn.
"There's uncertainty, and I think that's normal when you go through a change like this," said Eshbach, who was an administrator at Biglerville when it left the Mid Penn for the YAIAA. "But I saw the process (at Biglerville), how student-focused the York-Adams league was, and I was really impressed. It was a positive experience.
"I expect we could have the same positive experience here by playing schools of similar size, geography and competition" in the YAIAA.
No matter the decision, Northern will participate in the Mid Penn's Colonial Division at least through 2017-18, which necessitates several hour-plus bus rides to play divisional opponents such as Mifflin County or James Buchanan, in Franklin County.
If accepted into the YAIAA, Northern would participate in Division II in most sports — making an even eight teams with Dover, Eastern, West York, Gettysburg, Kennard-Dale, Susquehannock and York Suburban. That move would eliminate scheduling conflicts, including dreaded byes.
Even if it moves, Northern would expect to continue Mid Penn rivalries against schools such as Mechanicsburg, Big Spring and East Pennsboro.
If you go
What: Informational meeting regarding Northern York High School's possible move from the Mid Penn Conference to the YAIAA
When: A second session will be held at 6:30 p.m., March 7.
Where: Northern Middle School auditorium, 655 S. Baltimore St., Dillsburg