The reality of started to sink in around Tewksbury High on Tuesday, and reactions were somewhat restrained in the face of numerous questions surrounding the move.
Athletic directors from the 10 existing DCL schools will meet with athletic directors from the four new invitees -- Tewksbury, North Andover, Chelmsford and Billerica -- on May 23 to begin discussing how the transition will take place.
"It's still a huge process for us in trying to figure it all out and make sure it's the right move and the right fit," said TMHS Athletic Director Brian Hickey. "We cleared the first hurdle but there's still the matter of an interview and, on our part, we need to analyze the decision and make sure it's the right one."
Recently, two current DCL teams have announced their plans to move to new leagues. Arlington will join the Middlesex League and Tyngsboro will join the Midland-Wachusett League in the next two years. That leaves 10 existing DCL schools, plus the four new invitees.
Unlike the three-tiered division structure in the current DCL/Merrimack Valley Conference hockey league, which counted 21 teams among its ranks this past winter, a 14-team DCL would likely feature only two divisions, just as the 10-team MVC has for many years.
Had the DCL athletic directors seen fit to accept all nine MVC teams that had applied for admission, a three-tiered league would have been all but a certainty. Instead, the new DCL will likely resemble the old MVC in that teams will play the majority of their schedule against teams in their own division, and also play several cross-over games with the DCL's other division and several non-league games, depending on the sport.
Tewksbury, which currently houses about 920 students at the high school, will likely end up in DCL Division 2, playing most of its games against schools with similar enrollments like Bedford (795) , Concord-Carlisle (1208) , Weston (748), Wayland (867) and fellow invitee North Andover (1271).
Billerica (1599 students) or more likely, Chelmsford (1573) will end up in DCL Division 2 with Tewksbury.
That would leave Acton-Boxboro (1990), Westford Academy (1635) Boston Latin (1612), Lincoln-Sudbury (1614), Newton South (1706), Waltham (1375) and Billerica or Chelmsford in DCL Division 1. Based purely on enrollment, Waltham would be a better fit for DCL Division 2, but geography will also be a factor in the final alignments.
For TMHS coaches like football and wrestling coach Brian Aylward, the news of Tewksbury's invitation to the DCL dance was good, but not perfect.
"I think any discussion on doing what's best for the kids is a healthy discussion," Aylward said. "But I think that if they were to go with the bigger group, it would give them more options from year-to-year."
In the three-tiered MVC/DCL hockey league, teams are grouped by geography, and strength of program. If a team is unsuccessful in its respective division over an extended period of time, it can be moved down a division. Likewise, highly successful teams have the opportunity to move up a division.
Many athletic directors and coaches were hopeful that, if a three-tiered DCL had become a reality, divisional changes would be done on a sport-by-sport basis, impacting individual teams, but not the whole school.
Mark Bradley, Tewksbury's girls basketball coach, had a similar reaction to Aylward's.
"I was one of the guys who was definitely in favor of (the move to the DCL) initially just because the MVC is very competitive in my sport," Bradley said. "When you're talking (enrollment) numbers it's tough for us to compete with the larger (MVC) schools."
But Bradley, and other coaches, had hoped to see more than four schools invited, so that the three-tiered format could have been adopted.
"I think it's a good fit for us, but I'm shocked that they only invited those four teams," Bradley said. "It looks like the league will be sort of similar to what we have now. I was hoping for bigger numbers to come together so it could be broken up into three divisions."
Conspicuous by its absence from the chosen four was Dracut High with its 1114 student enrollment, according to Bradley.
"I think the way they looked at it was Chelsmford and Billerica already border their conference and Tewksbury was a good fit overall for their league," Bradley said. "But how do you take North Andover and not Dracut?"
If the current configuration remains in place, the MVC will be reduced to seven teams; Andover, Central Catholic, Lowell, Lawrence, Methuen, Haverhill and Dracut. Haverhill is reportedly exploring a move to the Cape Ann League.
"You definitely want to consider the integrity of the MVC in your decision process," Aylward said. "The proposal that we went in with (involving most of the MVC) is different now, and I think that makes the decision all that much tougher."
"It's tough for the MVC," Bradley agreed. "I'm an MVC guy and having played in the MVC maybe I look at it differently. But as a coach, I think it (the DCL) is a real good fit for us."
Aylward, who played football and wrestled for Tewksbury High in the MVC, had similar mixed emotions.
"I don't think anybody wants to negatively impact the MVC," Aylward said. "And in terms of making things easier on our kids, bringing in North Andover is the worst thing we could do for the wrestling program. They're a powerhouse.
"But in football it's a numbers game," he added. "We feel like the wear and tear on our team, in terms of depth, was a disadvantage. I think the long term thought process (of Tewksbury and the DCL) is that we're going to be placed with teams of similar size, and that's the right thought process."
Hickey, like Bradley and Aylward, thinks the pros outweigh the cons.
"Overall, the right thing to do is to pursue opportunities that will create a better climate for our kids," Hickey said. "In the end, we just want to do what's best for our kids.
"We (Tewksbury) are one of the original members of the MVC," Hickey said. "We've been a good, loyal member of the MVC for a lot of years so our affiliation with the league means a lot to us. But overall, it's the right thing for us to do to pursue other opportunities."