HS SPORTS: Lehighton board approves move to Colonial League

Jan. 24—LEHIGHTON — It's official. Lehighton is leaving the Schuylkill League for the Colonial League.

The Lehighton Area School Board voted unanimously at its general meeting Monday night to approve the move, which takes effect in all sports for the 2024-25 scholastic season.

Lehighton's decision to leave the Schuylkill League comes after the Colonial League extended invitations to both Lehighton and Jim Thorpe in December. Jim Thorpe has not taken any action on its invitation to this point.

"There is definitely an excitement amongst the students and the community in regards to the Colonial League move," Lehighton athletic director Kyle Spotts said Tuesday. "We have heard nothing but positive feedback and (Monday) night's unanimous decision by the board supports the feedback that we have received in regards to the move. I am excited for all of our student-athletes to be able to compete in a league setting and not miss out on opportunities."

Lehighton came to the Schuylkill League from the Mountain Valley Conference in the fall of 2014 as part of the Indians' move to the Anthracite Football League. The football move paid immediate dividends, as Lehighton won the 2015 AFL title and the Schuylkill League Division I crown in 2017, reaching the District 11 championship game in both seasons.

The Indians have had moderate success overall in their nine years in the Schuylkill League so far, winning back-to-back boys' soccer championships in 2014-15, the 2021 Schuylkill League golf team title and the team title at the 2023 Schuylkill League Wrestling Championships 11 days ago. Lehighton hasn't qualified for the league playoffs in girls' soccer, girls' volleyball, girls' basketball, boys' basketball, baseball or softball during its tenure in the Schuylkill League.

Spotts said a key reason to switch leagues was that the Colonial League offered championships in field hockey, boys' and girls' tennis and competitive cheerleading, which the Schuylkill League did not. He also previously cited Lehighton's exclusion in postseason events and scholar-athlete events that are only offered to the schools located in Schuylkill County.

"I believe the determining factor was the support from the community and the inclusiveness for all of our programs in the Colonial League," Spotts said.

A Tamaqua Area High School graduate and a pitcher on the Blue Raiders' District 11 Class AA champion and PIAA Class AA runner-up baseball team in 2003, Spotts was somewhat surprised at how quickly the decision to change leagues developed.

After receiving the invitation from the Colonial League, Spotts assembled detailed travel distance figures and transportation costs comparing the two leagues and made a presentation at the Lehighton school board's workshop Jan. 9. The board quickly put it on the agenda for Monday's regular meeting.

"Initially I never thought it would happen this quickly," Spotts said. "Once we knew the school board was interested, we were able to gather the comparing information between both leagues. We presented that information and also shared it with our community members. It became clear very quickly from the feedback we were receiving that this was something there was an interest in and the school board moved quickly to make it happen."

With a male enrollment of 254 and a female enrollment of 265 for the current two-year PIAA cycle, Lehighton is the second largest school among the 18 full-time members of the Schuylkill League behind Pottsville (264 male/316 female). The Indians' departure leaves a hole amongst the league's big schools, which would get larger if Jim Thorpe also decides to join the Colonial League.

Lehighton would be the 14th full-time member of the Colonial League, joining Bangor, Catasauqua, Moravian Academy, Northern Lehigh, Northwestern Lehigh, Notre Dame-Green Pond, Palisades, Palmerton, Pen Argyl, Salisbury, Saucon Valley, Southern Lehigh and Wilson. Lehighton slots in at third in terms of enrollment behind Southern Lehigh (401 male/429 female) and Bangor (372 male/330 female).

Spotts wasn't sure if the Indians would be placed in a division based on enrollment or geography. The Colonial League's basketball divisions, for example, are sorted based on location, with Lehighton most likely joining the West Division, which includes Catasauqua, Northern Lehigh, Northwestern Lehigh, Palmerton, Salisbury and Southern Lehigh.

Lehighton's proximity to Northwestern Lehigh, Northern Lehigh and Palmerton was a big positive in the move to the Colonial League.

"At this point there has been no discussion on the Colonial League divisional alignments," Spotts said. "I am assuming these discussions will be done after Jim Thorpe makes their decision in regards to the invitation.

"Obviously given the proximity to our schools we are hopeful they will make the move as well, but we understand they have to do what is best for their school and athletes just like we did when making the decision."

Contact the writer: Lboyer@republicanherald.com; 570-628-6026; @pubsportsboss on Twitter