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Mason-Dixon Conference unanimously votes in South Harrison

by Anthony Hanshew

SPORTS EDITOR

It didn't take long for South Harrison's athletic programs to find a new home.

Less than two weeks after its ouster from the Big 10 Conference, South Harrison was unanimously voted into the Mason-Dixon Conference. The Hawks will be full members in each sport beginning this fall and will be eligible for Mason-Dixon Conference championships in each 2002-03 sport with the exception of football.

Paden City and Morgantown Trinity also were voted into the conference at the same meeting, giving the new-look league 10 Class A members. Other members are Notre Dame, Bishop Donahue, Cameron, Clay-Battelle, Valley Wetzel, Madonna and Hundred.

"The Mason-Dixon Conference has always been a strong conference," Valley Wetzel athletic director Larry Weekly said. "And with South Harrison, which has been in the Class AA (football) playoffs, this will make us even stronger. We will be a very competitive conference."

Weekly and Valley Wetzel will oversee league activities for the next two years. League power rotates between member schools every two years.

South Harrison's move from Class AA to Class A prompted its removal from the Big 10, where it was a member for 12 years. The Hawks would have been the Big 10's lone Class A member in 2002-03.

"With our numbers going down, we realized we would be putting the Big 10 in a dilemma," South Harrison athletic director Brad Jett said. "We understand that. There are no hard feelings. Business is business.

"There's nothing personal. They did what was in the best interests of their student athletes and we feel we're doing what's best for our student athletes."

Hawks athletes will be eligible for all-Mason-Dixon consideration in each sport beginning this fall. Jett added, however, that the Lost Creek school will not lose its Harrison County identity.

South Harrison opens the football season with Bridgeport and Lincoln and plans to play both county schools, along with Liberty, for the foreseeable future.

"We're fortunate to have the closeness of the Harrison County schools," Jett said. "Each athletic director called to wish us the best."

The remainder of the football schedule includes just two Mason-Dixon teams, Notre Dame and Valley. League by-laws dictate teams play at least four conference games in order to be eligible for the Mason-Dixon title.

Jett, who also serves as South Harrison's football coach, says he hopes a compromise can be met to allow the Hawks to compete for this year's title.

League wrestling schools immediately benefit from this week's move. In order for a conference championship to be sanctioned, more than half of member schools must have the sport; the additions of South Harrison and Paden City give the league six wrestling programs.

"I'm just glad because what concerned me was our kids getting awards," South Harrison wrestling coach Paul Byrd said.

The Mason-Dixon Conference was formed in 1949 with tradition-rich schools such as Mannington and Farmington. Following the consolidation of North Marion, the league was left with just four schools -- Cameron, Valley Wetzel, Clay-Battelle and Hundred -- until Notre Dame, Madonna and Bishop Donahue joined in the early '90s.

Jett views the latest move as a positive for both the league and his athletic department.

"We were able to leave one conference gracefully and enter another just as gracefully," Jett said.

Sports editor Anthony Hanshew can be reached at 626-1444 or by e-mail at ahanshew@exponent-telegram.com