Mid-Peninsula Conference likely break-up: 5 of 7 schools get preliminary OK to join West PAC in most sports

L’Anse’s Joe Magaraggia, center, blocks for Purple Hornets running back Foster Miller, left, as Westwood defender Erik Anderson tries to get in on the play on Sept. 8 at Westwood High School. Contests between the teams would become a league game in the future if preliminary approval for five Mid-Peninsula Conference teams, including Westwood, for joining the West PAC becomes reality. (Journal file photo by Rachel Oakley)

“There is no firm timeline for finalization.” — Sean Jacques, Calumet athletic director, West PAC commissioner

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CALUMET — The first step in expanding the West PAC was completed on Tuesday. 

During the high school league’s scheduled meeting, the athletic directors from the current full West PAC members of Calumet, Hancock, Houghton, L’Anse and West Iron County gave preliminary approval to the addition of Mid-Peninsula Conference members Ishpeming, Negaunee, Gwinn, Westwood and Iron Mountain for full conference membership. 

“The most important contingency is being able to create schedules for all schools involved,” West PAC commissioner and Calumet athletic director Sean Jacques said in a press release. “Each sponsored sport presents unique scheduling challenges that must be discussed and approved before the membership applications are finalized. 

“To put it another way, the hard work of planning and molding this larger-scale West PAC into a viable conference for all involved schools is the next task at hand.”

With the addition of the five schools, the West PAC will now include 17 of the 24 11-player football teams in the Upper Peninsula. Gogebic, a cooperative made up of Ironwood, Bessemer and Wakefield-Marenisco, and Wisconsin schools Hurley and Eagle River Northland Pines are currently in the conference for football only, while Munising, Bark River-Harris, Norway and Lake Linden-Hubbell were approved for football-only membership this year to begin play in 2018.

The five schools coming from the M-PC will make the West PAC a 10-team league for sports other than football. Now, the ADs have to figure out a way to make the scheduling work across the board. They will reconvene in early November for a meeting to begin working out the details.

“I have been in contact with all of the applicants, and each of them is appreciative for the opportunity and are willing to work hard to make this a reality,” Jacques said. “There is no firm timeline for finalization.”

With the M-PC dissolving, that leaves Gladstone and Manistique without a conference — both cited travel distance as the reason for not applying to the western-U.P.-based West PAC.

This was Gladstone’s first year in the M-PC after making the move from the Great Northern Conference. Gladstone looks to rejoin the GNC.

“I talked to all the GNC teams and they definitely want us back in it to get more games and get more people in the conference,” Gladstone athletic director Andy Jacques told Mike Mattson of the Escanaba Daily Press.

“All in all, we will do what we need to do to put games together and get schedules all figured out now. We will play who we need to play.”

The recent changes leave Manistique with probably the most uncertain future. Manistique’s eastern location compared to the other schools makes it difficult in deciding the next step in finding a new conference.

“I’m disappointed more than anything that the conference appears to be dissolving,” Manistique athletic director Rob Ryan told Mattson. “It’s been a high-quality Class C conference in the U.P. and the state for 40 years.

“To see it unravel makes me sad. 

“I know this is driven by declining enrollments and driven by football. Schools have to look at what is best for them.

“I have no hard feelings for those schools. But we are challenged geographically. We are in an isolated area.”

Manistique may be forced to compete as an independent for a year while looking for a new conference.

The focus on the search will be getting Manistique into a football-only conference along with a separate conference for other sports.

Manistique could explore the option of heading east to the non-football Straits Area Conference that includes Newberry, Sault Ste. Marie, Rudyard, St. Ignace and Cheboygan. 

“I talked to our school board Monday and there are a couple options to look at,” Ryan said.

“I will get together again with our administration and board and coaches. We may be independent for one year to see how things unfold and to see what options there are. We don’t want to be an independent.”