Hillman staying in North Star League

Hillman is staying in the North Star League after all.

The Hillman Community Schools Board of Education voted to stay in the North Star League rather than move the school’s teams to the Ski Valley Conference during a meeting on Monday night.

The board said the decision was based on the addition of new teams to the league and comments from the public.

“It’s awesome. We’re happy that they’re staying,” North Star League Commissioner Doug Graham said. “I have no doubt, there will be more stability because we’re adding good programs and it will only enhance the reputation of the North Star League.”

In December, the Ski Valley Conference Board of Governors accepted the Tigers as a member and Hillman would have officially begun Ski Valley Conference play in the fall of 2014.

The decision to stay in the North Star League is likely a welcome one for members of the community who were hesitant to see Hillman move away from long standing rivalries with schools like Atlanta, Mio and Posen.

Hillman has been a charter member of the North Star League for years and is one of eight schools that make up one of the state’s oldest continuous leagues.

Graham gave a presentation to the board last month to try and discuss the benefits of Hillman staying and many members of the community turned out to voice their support against the move.

Declining enrollment and questions about the overall stability of the North Star League caused Hillman to seek a change late last year after an initial attempt to expand the league was voted down. The enrollment issues caused scheduling conflicts particularly with football. Au Gres and Arenac Eastern combined for football last season and there was the possibility Hale would move to 8-man football this upcoming season, leaving the league with potentially four teams playing 11-man football.

In January, the North Star League announced the addition of four teams-Rogers City, Alcona, Whittemore-Prescott and Oscoda-giving the league 12 teams beginning this fall.

The expansion gives the league stability with scheduling, travel and keeps intact many of area’s local rivalries.

“We’re excited to stay in the North Star League. The Ski Valley was a great option from the football side of things, but I’m happy because we get to keep our rivalries,” Hillman football coach Bill Koenig said. “It’ll be nice to play some old foes again.”

With Hillman sticking around, football scheduling shouldn’t be a problem as nine of the league’s 12 teams are slated to play 11-man football this season-Hillman, Hale, Atlanta, Mio, Au Gres/Arenac and the four expansion schools. Posen will continue to play 8-man football.

Hillman’s decision to stay should also help shore up scheduling issues at the JV level.

Having 12 schools gives the league stability at least for the near future and even with the addition of the four new schools-three of which are Class C-Graham is confident the league will remain highly competitive, pointing to the Atlanta baseball team’s recent playoff run as an example of the league’s smaller schools having success.

Competing in the Ski Valley Conference would have afforded rich opportunities for competition and new rivalries, but Hillman’s coaches are pleased to be sticking around a league they know so well.

“Both leagues looked real favorable, but it’s not about one school. This offers options for everyone,” Hillman basketball coach Eric Muszynski said. “We can be a part of expansion and maybe we can be a leader in the conference to get new sports. It’s a great thing and we can keep the tradition and some of the rivals we had previously.”

James Andersen can be reached via email at sports@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5694. Follow James on Twitter @ja_alpenanews.