Following the lead of some of its college counterparts, the Laurel Highlands Conference is again testing the waters of expansion.
Chestnut Ridge and Ligonier Valley made presentations to the LHAC at a meeting at Forest Hills Middle School Sept. 15. They had previously informed the conference by letter they were interested in possibly joining.
Both schools are familiar with the conference. Ligonier was a full member through the 1999 season, after which it left to help form the Heritage Conference. Ridge played an LHAC schedule in football only from 1993 through 2000 before moving into the Inter-County Conference.
Finding it tough to get a schedule in its third year as an independent after being left out of a reformed ICC and pulling out of the Mountain Athletic Conference before ever playing a game in that loop, Ridge has been eager to find a conference affiliation. This time, the Bedford County school is prepared to become a full member of the LHAC, and conference officials are under the impression that the Chestnut Ridge School Board has given the athletic department its blessing to go ahead and join.
As much as it wants to be in, however, the matter is not entirely in Ridge's control.
"Basically, it's in Ligonier Valley's hands,'' LHAC executive director Ron Stempka of Central Cambria said.
The LHAC can only expand in multiples of two, which means Ridge needs a second school to come in with it. Although its letter to the LHAC predated that of Ridge, there's a feeling that not everyone at Ligonier Valley is on board with jumping back into the Laurel Highlands. Some there want to maintain the status quo, and there's even speculation that the school could turn to the WPIAL as another option.
To muddy things further, the Heritage Conference is meeting today, where West Shamokin is expected to approach it about replacing Laurel Valley as the league's 10th member for football only. Presumably, the fact that the Heritage has an odd number of teams without Laurel Valley and that Ligonier was the Heritage's only Class AA school were motivating factors in its looking elsewhere.
A message left on Ligonier Valley athletic director Brett Miller's voicemail was unreturned Thursday afternoon.
Even if West Shamokin joins the Heritage, District 6 and the WPIAL would have to work out how that school would figure into the football playoff structure. District 6 wasn't believed to be initially receptive to adding West Shamokin to its playoffs just for football, although it would welcome its addition if it were for all sports.
Should Ligonier decide to follow through and join the LHAC, Stempka said, pending approval of the school boards at the conference's 12 current schools, it and Ridge might be able to start competing in sports other than football as early as next school year. Football would start in 2012.
"We're looking forward to seeing what they have to say,'' Stempka said.
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