Nearly a decade in the making, the merger of the Harford and Cecil county athletic programs into one conference is now even closer to reality.
At a meeting last night at Fallston Middle School, the Harford County Board of Education approved plans for the 14-team Upper Chesapeake Bay Athletic Conference, which could be in full operation by the 2004-05 academic year.
The conference, which would separate the nine Harford and five Cecil schools into two seven-team divisions, was approved by the Cecil County Board of Education last week.
"Unless we run into problems that we can't see, we're going to go with it," said Harford County Coordinator of Athletics Forest Wiest, who first presented the league proposal to the Harford County Board of Education in late May.
After a proposal is made, it must be open for public debate for 30 days before being voted on.
With its approval last night, the league will next form a Board of Control, which will be done in the fall, Wiest said.
Composed of Wiest, Cecil County Coordinator of Athletics Sue Strobel and an administrator, athletic director and coach from each county, the Board of Control is expected to hire a part-time commissioner and establish rules and regulations for the league.
A Cecil and Harford merger was proposed and met with strong opposition about 10 years ago, but much has changed since.
With many counties adding schools and traditional Harford nonleague opponents bound to their own conference games, scheduling has become increasingly difficult for ADs.
Wiest said that along with ensuring his schools have a full complement of games, the merger will add much-needed competitive balance.
In Harford, the big three of Bel Air, Fallston and C. Milton Wright, all Class 3A schools, generally dominate the county's other six schools - all 2A or 1A.
All five of the Cecil schools are 2A or 1A.
The new league would have the seven stronger teams in one division and the seven deemed weakest in the other. The divisions will be composed differently for each sport.
"From our standpoint, the major driving force behind the league is we want to develop a league that is more competitive," Wiest said.
"Over the past decade, over 80 percent of our county championships have been won by one of the big three schools. With a two-division setup, this will make for a much more competitive situation."
Though the league is supposed to go into operation in 2004, its format and schedule will be tested in the girls and boys basketball seasons this winter and baseball and softball seasons this spring.
The 14 teams that would make up the Upper Chesapeake Bay Athletic Conference:
Aberdeen Bel Air
Bohemia Manor C. Milton Wright
Fallston Harford Tech
Havre de Grace Joppatowne
North East North Harford
Perryville Rising Sun