A process that first began more than a decade ago finally came to fruition Friday when the prinicipals of the 11 Northeastern Conference schools voted to allow Masconomet Regional entry into the league.
"It's very exciting, a good step for Masconomet and hopefully for the NEC as well," said Masconomet athletic director John Daileanes. "I anticipate it being a great relationship."
Masconomet, which consists of students from Boxford, Topsfield and Middleton, will be joining Beverly, Salem, Danvers, Peabody, Marblehead, Swampscott, Gloucester, Lynn Classical, Lynn English, Saugus and Winthrop in the Northeastern Conference. This will create two divisions of six teams each in virtually all sports.
Masconomet plays many of the Northeastern Conference schools in both hybrid leagues (for sports like gymnastics and girls hockey) and in non-league contests. That was part of Daileanes' pitch to the NEC principals Friday, saying his school wanted to "formalize it by being an official member of the league."
The Chieftains will be leaving the Cape Ann League after more than three decades as members. In recent years, Masco has simply outgrown many of the other schools that they play in both varsity and sub-varsity events. Wilmington (Middlesex) and North Andover (MVC) have also left the CAL for similar reasons in recent years.
"I think this move will be beneficial for all three parties involved: the CAL, the NEC and our school," said Masconomet principal Peter Delani, who was there at Beverly High Friday morning along with Daileanes and Masconomet Superintendent of Schools Mike Harvey when the vote was made.
Masco's current enrollment (9-through-12) of 1,145 (boys and girls) would place the school fifth among NEC schools, less than Peabody, Beverly and the two Lynn schools (and about 50 students more than Marblehead). That number was almost 400 more than the next closest school in the Cape Ann League, said Delani, and more than double half of the CAL's other schools.
"The Cape Ann League has been wonderful to us all these years, and from the beginning of our conversations with the NEC we were very up front with the (CAL) athletic directors and principals. We want to continue to be good neighbors with them, now and moving forward," said Delani. "Conversely, a move to the NEC, where we'd be closer to the middle of the pack size-wise, we feel we'd be bringing in athletic programs that will be good additions and others that will challenge us to get better.
"If you were creating a new league," he added, "and took all the schools in northeastern Massachusetts and looked at enrollment numbers and geographic proximity, you'd place us in the NEC every time. That'd be the most logical."
The athletic directors in the Cape Ann League will hold their next monthly meeting on Nov. 6, and among the topics of discussion will be when Masconomet can be let out of the league's charter to join the NEC. It's expected that could happen for the start of the 2020-21 school year, although Daileanes said "we've always done what's best for the Cape Ann League, and we'll continue to do that as we make our exit to the NEC."
Masconomet had applied for membership into the NEC several times over the last decade-plus, but were never able to get the two-third majority vote for entrance. But with former Greater Boston League teams Malden, Medford, Everett and Somerville no longer in the conference as of this school year and Revere High choosing to follow them to the newly reformed GBL, the NEC was left with an uneven 11 squads.
This time, the Chieftains were accepted — first by the league's athletic directors by a 9-2 vote two weeks ago, and again Friday by the NEC prinicipals (9 yes votes, 1 no and 1 who simply said 'present').
"We already have rivalries with Masconomet in several sports, but at the varsity and sub-varsity, and I think it's really a great fit for the NEC," said Beverly High athletic director Dan Keefe. "Balancing the league with two divisions of six teams each is huge, too."
"Competition-wise, they bring a really strong athletic department across the board into the NEC. It'll raise the bar for all of us," said Danvers High AD Andy St. Pierre. "They're already in hybrid leagues with us for things like gymnastics and girls hockey, and we play them in most sports anyway, whether it's the regular season or the state playoffs. They fit in really well with what we're doing here at Danvers."
With the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association going to MaxPreps for postseason seedings starting in 2020, which uses strength of schedule as part of those seedings, adding Masconomet — which already has a strong athletic profile — into the NEC can be viewed as a huge positive for the conference.
So why now after trying, and failing, to gain NEC admittance in the past? Daileanes, who has "strong working relationships" with most, if not all of the NEC athletic directors, feels the timing was right this time around.
"I think there were some different faces and voices at the (voting) table who maybe were more open minded to the possibility of us coming in," said Daileanes, who began as an AD at Newburyport High in 1999. "Schools want to go out and schedule the best competition that they can, and hopefully we're considered in that way. People at the table were willing to listen about the positives adding Masconomet to the NEC could bring. That was the biggest thing.
"The way I look at it, Masconomet is very thankful to both the CAL and the NEC," he added. "To the CAL for the great relationships we've had with other schools, relationships I hope to continue in the future through non-league games. And to the NEC, which has welcomed us in and presented us with a new athletic challenge we're excited, as a school, to take on."
"It'll be a positive move," added Delani. "We're excited for the opportunity."