Three years after moving to the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference, Spruce Mountain High School is about to return to the Mountain Valley Conference.

In a recent informal straw poll, the MVC’s 13 member schools unanimously approved Spruce Mountain’s request to return to the conference for all sports except football starting in the fall of 2017. The conference is expected to make the move official with a formal vote at a regular meeting later this month, according to conference president Chris LeBlanc, the athletic director at Madison High School.

“We’re very excited to have Spruce Mountain back in the conference,” LeBlanc said. “It’s a local school coming back with some traditional rivalries, and it adds competitive teams year in and year out to the conference. It’s going to be a good thing for our conference.”

Spruce Mountain athletic director James Black said the Phoenix have a good relationship with the KVAC, where it competes against other Class B schools. But a dramatic decline in enrollment at the school makes the MVC, with mostly Class C schools, a better fit.

“The KVAC has been a great conference to work with, but enrollment here has gone from 560 when we made the move to 408,” Black said. “Our teams have been playing schools whose enrollment is 150 more than us, in some cases. So this makes sense for us competitively.”

Black added the school should also save $4,000-$5,000 in travel costs with the move.

“Where we’re at right now, this is just the right thing for the school and the community,” Black said.

Spruce Mountain’s predecessors, Jay and Livermore Falls high schools, were charter members of the MVC when it was formed in 1964. When the schools merged to form Spruce Mountain in 2011, it remained in the conference, but as a Class B school. In July, 2014, led by then athletic director Lee Hixon, it left to join the KVAC.

Black said the feedback about the move from coaches and community has been overwhelmingly positive.

Due to the declining enrollment, many of Spruce Mountain’s teams will be hovering right around the cutoff for Class B when the Maine Principals’ Association’s new classification cycle takes effect in the fall. Phoenix football, which is a member of the Campbell Conference, will be moving down to Class D next fall.

At least one sport, field hockey, is likely to move down from Class B to C. Black said there is some concern about being able to schedule enough competitive games as an MVC member, but the hope is the conference will eventually allow its members to schedule some crossover games with other conferences.

LeBlanc said the MVC has discussed at length making changes to its constitution to give schools more flexibility in scheduling. But the conference is being cautious about allowing its members to schedule outside of the MVC because it could prove to be more advantageous to centrally located schools such as Winthrop or Hall-Dale, while some of the MVC’s smaller and more remote outposts, such as Madison, Carrabec, Mt. Abram and Telstar, might have trouble finding willing non-conference foes.

The MVC has already changed its constitution to allow “associate” members, which opens the door for non-member schools to compete as members in certain sports. Richmond, which is a member of the East-West Conference, will become the first associate member this spring with its track team competing in conference meets and athletes eligible for conference postseason recognition.

Spruce Mountain’s return brings the MVC back to 14 schools. After a seven-year stint, St. Dom’s departed last fall to rejoin the Western Maine Conference.

The MVC grew to 16 teams when St. Dom’s joined in 2009, the largest the conference has ever been. LeBlanc said the conference would like to continue to add members and ultimately have enough to consider re-instituting divisions.

“We hope this is a springboard to getting other schools in,” he said. 

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