The North Star League will have quite a different look next season.
After several months of deliberation, the North Star League will expand to 12 teams this fall in all sports after the additions of Oscoda, Whittemore-Prescott, Alcona and Rogers City were approved by North Star League athletic directors at a meeting on Monday.
Alcona, Whittemore-Prescott and Oscoda are currently members of the Huron Shores Conference while Rogers City primarily competes in the Straits Area Conference, but also was part of the Ski Valley Conference for football last fall.
Hillman, which announced a move to the Ski Valley Conference last month, will compete in the North Star League next season before joining its new conference in the fall of 2014.
For many of the schools, the move will create stability in scheduling and keep the majority of schools in Northeast Michigan together in a regional conference that will make travel easier as well.
Alcona Athletic Director Dan O'Connor was happy with the move, pointing out that Alcona has been part of several conferences in the last 10 years.
"I'm very excited by the things that will happen to the North Star League. We're excited to be a part of all that's going on,"
-North Star League Commissioner Doug
"We've been trying to get into that league for 20 years," O'Connor said of the North Star League. "There's probably a lot of people here that have been here for a long time that have a little smile on their face (because of the move)."
Alcona is currently in its third year of Huron Shores competition and was previously a member of the Straits Area Conference before competing as an independent from 2005-2009.
Expanding the North Star League has been discussed several times in the past, but has never seriously been considered until now at a time when declining enrollment and consolidation or elimination of some sports has left some sizable gaps in scheduling among area schools.
"I'm very excited by the things that will happen to the North Star League. We're excited to be a part of all that's going on," North Star League Commissioner Doug Graham said.
Hillman announced its departure from the North Star League last month, citing questions over the long-term viability of the league, particularly in football after only five of the eight North Star League schools fielded 11-man teams last season, due to co-ops and Posen playing eight-man football.
The idea for a North Star-Huron Shores merge was discussed last fall and supported by the athletic directors, but the idea was tabled by several school boards due to some concerns over football. Discussions for a merger arose again later, when athletic directors from both conferences agreed that something had to be done. At the meeting on Monday, most of the athletic directors already had been given the green light by their school boards to approve the expansion.
To combat the football concerns, plans currently are being discussed to create two tiers for football, one made up of the Huron Shores schools and Rogers City and the other composed of the five North Star League schools. Crossover dates also will be part of the schedule to allow for rivalry games like Whittemore-Prescott-Mio. Those games will be considered non-conference games and there will be a separate champion for each division.
"It gives us more opportunities geographically," Mio Athletic Director Terry Gillette said. "I don't think you could ask for anything more. We don't have to travel (as) far and there's more unity."
Gillette said plans are being made to merge Huron Shores schedules with North Star schedules, though a number of schools from both conference already play each other.
O'Connor is hopeful that the new North Star League can create some new rivalries as well as the possibility of adding new sports.
"It will keep us more regional and a lot of us can develop some rivalries," O'Connor said. "When people talked about the advantages it would give the schools, they started to get behind it. It made too much sense not to do it."