Starting next school year, many Nantucket High School sports teams will face much tougher competition in regular league play. NHS has been a member of the Cape and Islands sports league for most of its sporting history. However, the league is expanding, and will soon include the majority of schools on Cape Cod, including regional powerhouses like Barnstable, Falmouth, and Nauset. The league is currently made up of smaller public, charter and private schools such as Monomoy and Sturgis East and West.
This change was brought on partly due to the break up of other leagues and conferences, such as the Atlantic Coast League (ACL), and the Old Colony League (OCL). Joining from the ACL, there is Dennis-Yarmouth, Sandwich, Falmouth, and Nauset. Barnstable decided to join as well, causing the end of the 3-team OCL. The ACL used to include North and South Plymouth, but after they left the league in 2014, only the four Cape schools already mentioned and Marshfield remained. This meant that more games had to be scheduled due to the small number of league opponents and more travel for Marshfield. This did not make any sense, as the league was at that point almost entirely composed of Cape Cod Schools, with all of them dwarfed by Marshfield in terms of population.
With Martha’s Vineyards Girls and Boys Soccer Teams committed to the league, all remaining teams in the county will join in the upcoming year. The allegiance entails playing opposing teams twice a season, with one home and one away game, rather than the traditional one game of alternating locations. This could have huge ramifications for the football team and their scheduling regarding the Island Cup. In the past, the Island Cup has traditionally been played at the very end of the season around Thanksgiving, but now the game may have to be played earlier, with some worrying that this will take away some of its significance. However, it does have the added effect of that game being a potential championship-decider or playoff-decider.
This change was originally scheduled for the 2018-19 school year but was delayed by an ACL policy requiring a two-year notice before leaving a league. Saint John Paul is in a similar situation and is planning on joining the league as well in 2020. Meanwhile, Cape Tech will be leaving the league next season and be joining the Mayflower Athletic Conference.
With so many new teams being thrown into the mix, league officials have been faced with the dilemma of scheduling and figuring out how to format a league with many more teams than it is used to. They have to determine a way to avoid lopsided matches between large programs, such as Nauset, and smaller ones like Cape Cod Academy. For football, the bigger schools like Barnstable, Dennis-Yarmouth, Falmouth, and Nauset will make up one division, while the smaller programs, including Nantucket, Martha’s Vineyard, Sandwich, and Monomoy will make up the other division. This only specifically applies to football. It is not known yet how other sports will format this, and there will likely be large variation across sports and how they will tackle this issue.
While the addition of these teams may hurt records for some of the sports, athletes have expressed enthusiasm at the new challenges this change could bring. Next year’s soccer captain Charlie Clarke said “There’s been a couple of seasons recently where we’ve beaten a lot of teams but not been able to win the South Sectionals. A lot of the teams we play in the regular season are not as competitive, so playing against bigger and better schools will get us more prepared for playoffs, which we can hopefully do well in next year.”
While Clarke was referring to the soccer team, this could be applied to many of the sports teams like football and lacrosse, who have come close to glory in recent seasons but have not been able to win a Sectional Championship. This plan to elevate the Cape and Islands League and its level of competitiveness has been in the works for a while now, and with it comes a lot of controversies. However, it also has the ability to help bring state championships to the island and establish new meaningful rivalries, such as possibly one between Nantucket and its bridge to the mainland, Barnstable. Although this change has its critics, it will, one way or another, usher Nantucket Whaler Athletics into a new era.
By Emmet Clarke