Oak Hill High School is on the verge of joining the Mountain Valley Conference.
A charter Class B member of the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference, Oak Hill will join the MVC in the fall of 2012.
Thirteen of the conference’s 14 athletic directors met Monday to unanimously recommend the move, according to MVC president Tim Johnson, the athletic director at Hall-Dale. Principals from MVC member schools are expected to approve the expansion via e-mail vote later this week.
“I don’t think (approval) is going to be an issue,” Johnson said. “I would imagine by the end of the week, barring any unforeseen circumstances, it would be approved.”
Oak Hill athletic director Jim Palmer contacted the MVC several weeks ago about joining the conference, with reduced travel costs a major impetus.
“Travel plays a big part,” Palmer said. “The way budgets are these days, we have to look to save money any way we can.”
Geographically, Oak Hill is located on the southwestern edge of the KVAC, and traveling to schools such as Camden Hills, Nokomis and Maine Central Institute can cost time and money. The Wales school would be more centrally located in the MVC.
Palmer said studies he has conducted show the school could save about $4,000 in travel expenses. In addition, students won’t have to be dismissed from school as early for games during the fall and spring seasons.
“We go to those coastal schools and it’s an hour, hour-and-a-half drive for us,” Palmer said. “With games starting at 3:30 or 4 p.m. in the fall and spring, we’re letting kids out of school at 12:30 or 1 p.m., and we don’t have to do that in the MVC.”
The addition of Oak Hill would increase membership in the MVC to 15 teams. The conference suffered a net loss of two teams last year when Georges Valley merged with Rockland to form Oceanside and moved to the KVAC and when Jay and Livermore Falls merged to form Spruce Mountain.
The move will reunite Oak Hill with a number of rivals from the old Mid-Maine Conference, including Monmouth Academy and Hall-Dale. Palmer said renewing rivalries with those schools and building upon football rivalries with other nearby schools such as Lisbon and Winthrop added to the MVC’s appeal.
Johnson said Oak Hill had the opportunity to switch conferences in the past but declined because athletic director Bill Fairchild, who retired last spring, did not want the school to compete against Class C schools.
Drawing students from Litchfield, Sabattus and Wales, Oak Hill will be the third Class B school in the MVC, joining Mountain Valley and Spruce Mountain.
Palmer downplayed the lack of Class B schools in the conference, noting that both Mountain Valley and Spruce Mountain are tournament regulars in most sports while adding that Oak Hill has had increased difficulty competing against Class B schools.
“With our enrollment in the low 400s, we’re pretty close to Class C (size), so I think we’re going to be able to be more competitive and get some excitement and confidence in some of our programs again,” he said.
Johnson said the conference would welcome more Class B schools.
“We really need another Class B school,” he said.. “I’m hoping someone from another Class B school sees what Oak Hill is doing and realizes it makes sense for them, too.”
Adding Oak Hill makes geographic, logistical and competitive sense for the conference, Johnson said.
“I think it’s a great fit,” he said. “They really sit almost in the middle of the conference. They bring in (Heal) points as a B school. For us, having field hockey and boys and girls tennis teams was a big plus because those numbers are hard to put together right now.”
Palmer said he wasn’t sure how the move would affect sports that are not part of the MVC, such as wrestling and lacrosse. He didn’t expect a major impact because teams in those sports already compete against many crossover opponents from other conferences.
Oak Hill football looking for new coach
One sport which will not be affected by the move is football, where Oak Hill will remain in the Campbell Conference Class C. The Raiders will have a new coach, however, after Dave Wing resigned last month.
Palmer said the school continues to accept applications for the position, with the intention of having a committee interview candidates shortly after next week’s February vacation.
The list of applicants already includes former Livermore Falls head coach Brad Bishop, Lisbon assistant coach Stacen Doucette, Leavitt assistant and former Edward Little and Livermore Falls head coach Jim Hersom, Gray-New Gloucester assistant Bruce Nicholas, who preceded Wing as Oak Hill head coach, Bates assistant and former Winthrop star Walter Polky, and Oak Hill assistant Geoff Wright.
Wing, 64, cited time constraints as the reason for stepping down after three seasons. The Raiders reached the playoffs all three years, going as far as the semifinals once while compiling a 12-16 record.