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JT, Lehighton match Colonial League ‘mission’

The Colonial and Schuylkill Leagues joined in a scheduling agreement for football that has been used in each of the past two seasons and has worked well. The agreement matches schools of similar classification and generally, the games have been competitive.

“I think what the football cooperative has done,” said Northwestern Lehigh Athletic Director Jason Zimmerman, “was expose some of the schools that may not have played them before and see that Jim Thorpe and Lehighton are similar to our demographic and they do things right. They play hard and they’re competitive, but it’s not a win at all cost attitude. Plus, they have beautiful facilities and really align to the point of our mission and to our demographics.”

With the Colonial League recently extending invitations to Jim Thorpe and Lehighton, two Schuylkill League teams, to switch leagues, a couple questions come to mind.

First, would absconding with two Schuylkill League schools toss a grenade into the agreement for football scheduling between the two leagues? Second, could feelings go the other way and open the door to the two leagues to form a super-conference?

“We have been open and honest, but I do personally worry about that,” admitted Northwestern Lehigh athletic director Jason Zimmerman. “I don’t worry about the smaller schools. I worry about the Pottsvilles, the Blue Mountains, North Schuylkills and Tamaquas. Those schools that are pretty darn competitive, they’re fair in size, middle of the road 3A and 4A programs. We have been forthright and honest as have Lehighton and Jim Thorpe with the leadership in the Schuylkill League. I don’t think it is any secret that we have always been flirting with them.”

Zimmerman believes that any disagreement would not necessarily mean that the cooperative scheduling for football would go away, and he points out that he wants to be able to keep playing schools like Blue Mountain and Pottsville who are competitive and close to Northwestern Lehigh.

In football, there is no league champion for the combined leagues, but teams are awarded a division championship. The Gold Division was won by Northwestern Lehigh this past season when it defeated Southern Lehigh in the regular season finale. Teams are more interested in being able to compete for a district championship than a league championship, but the cooperative makes scheduling much easier and allows for comparable size schools to play each other.

In 2014, the Lehigh Valley Conference and Mountain Valley Conference merged into what is known today as the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference (EPC). The merger formed an alliance of 18 teams, somewhat of a super conference. In that case, the geographics made less sense than a full merger of the Colonial and Schuylkill Leagues would, so the question must be raised whether the two leagues could become the next super conference.

“There is always something out there to look at as far as what we will call a ‘super conference,’” Zimmerman said. “The EPC right now is going through their growing pains; they have schools that are big in size and class, but maybe not as competitive as their brothers. There is support from what I would say is a majority of our District 11 schools for us to continue looking to take baby steps.”

Zimmerman pointed out that there could also be somewhat of a domino effect that could lead to a super conference, at least for football, if not for other sports.

“We can take this step and then I think there is always the super conference idea on the table,” said Zimmerman. “Some type of super conference set up at least in the sport of football. I don’t see it being an issue in many of the other sports but football rears its ugly head, especially around playoff time.”

The first step in anything is for Jim Thorpe and Lehighton to consider the pros and cons of moving to the Colonial League in all sports. From there, the baby steps would have to be taken to figure out the future of football leagues and schedules down the road. The Olympians and Indians would officially join the Colonial League for the 2024-2025 school year if they do accept the invitation.