What was once just an idea is now a step closer to reality as Tewksbury High Athletic Director Brian Hickey Wednesday night presented to the School Committee his plans to formally apply for admission to the Dual County League by the end of this month.
Hickey, who has held ongoing discussions with DCL officials since the end of last year, will submit Tewksbury's application before the May 1 deadline. Tewksbury is among six Merrimack Valley Conference schools, including Dracut, Andover, Lowell, Billerica and Chelmsford, who have explored the possibility of leaving the MVC and joing the DCL in recent months.
Once the application is submitted, Hickey will meet with DCL representatives who will decide whether or not to accept Tewksbury into the league. Once an invitation is extended, the Tewksbury School Committee would vote on whether or not to accpet that invitation.
"There are a lot of very sound reasons (for the move)," Hickey said. "But I want to say first that Tewksbury is an origianl member of the Merrimack Valley Conference and we value that highly and we feel connected with the MVC.
"But it's not about that, it''s about our kids," Hickey added. "The collaboration with the Dual County League would put us in a division with schools that are of similar size and have similar enrollments and will (provide) a more balanced level of competition for us."
At present, Tewksbury is the second smallest school in the Merrimack Valley Conference, behind Notre Dame Academy, which is an all-girls school. Tewksbury's current enrollment of 911 students at the high school is dwarfed by MVC foes like Lowell and Lawrence, who have more than 3,000 students enrolled.
If TMHS were to move to the DCL, the school would join a three-tiered league broken up into three divisions based on enrollment size and strength of program. Tewksbury would likely share a divison with schools like Bedford, Dracut, Wayland, Concord-Carlisle and perhaps Weston or Lincoln-Sudbury.
TMHS teams would still play cross-over games against tradition MVC foes like Billerica, Lowell, Andover and Chelmsford, and still play non-league games against nearby rival Wilmington High.
Gone from the TMHS schedule would be Central Catholic, Lawrence, Methuen and Haverhill. The Redmen would only see larger schools like Andover, Chelmsford, Billeria and Lowell once per season.
North Andover is also expected to seek admission to the DCL, and the league will likely grow to as many as 18 teams, divided into three divisions.
At present, the Tewksbury High hockey and gymnastics teams participate in a hybrid DCL/MVC league divided into three divisions. Tewksbury's hockey team skated to an 8-1-1 division record in MVC/DCL Divison 2 play this winter. The Redmen earned a state tournament berth and went on a tear, eventually beating to win the Division 2 state championship.
"We enjoy a great relationship with the DCL right now," Hickey said. "We already do this collaborative scheduling in ice hockey and it works very well."
According to Hickey, MIAA rules call for a two-year waiting period when schools change leagues. But if all participants in both leagues agree, the move could be expedited and next year (2011-2012) could be the last year of the MVC as we know it.
Hickey's presentation met with a great deal of support from the School Committee.
"I grew up playing in the MVC so it's kind of strange to hear," said committee member Joe Russell. "But I understand what you are trying to do and it's good to hear."
Newly-elected School Committee member Brain Dick, who coached the TMHS boys freshman basketball team this winter, agreed.
"The level of competition we're seeing right now is pretty robust," Dick said. "This is an opportunity for the community to breed more competition, more enthusiasm and perhaps more success, so I support at least applying for admission."
Superintendent of Schools Dr. John O'Connor also supported the application.
"Both (Hickey) and I have mixed emotions about this," O'Connor said. "We've been a member of the Merrimack Valley League for decades. Leaving that is a concern. However, we know that there is opportunity for our students to be in a league that's more reflective of the size of the school district and that is positive in and of itself. It levels that playing field, if you will."