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Changes 2012: NJAC schools shift divisions, sections
Written by Paul Mencher - Monday, August 27 2012  

*Click here for a photo gallery by Robert Harris.*

NJAC teams will have to adjust to some new divisional rivalries as the 2012-13 high school sports year gets underway in September. Each of the conference's five divisions will change to some degree, thanks to a league reorganization and a new NJAC member.

The biggest change comes for the smallest schools. The original alignment, which held for the NJAC's first three years, was based primarily on geography but was tweaked somewhat based on school population. The new version goes strictly on geography, resulting in some significant shifts among the divisions. (This general alignment applies for all NJAC sports except for football, bowling and fencing. The league does not oversee certain sports, like ice hockey and lacrosse.)

high school sports image
Hackettstown plays Parsippany Hills in a boys' soccer scrimmage. Neither team is changing divisions this year but both will see new divisional rivals within the NJAC. (Photo by Robert Harris)

Four members of the old Liberty Division--Boonton, Butler, Kinnelon and Mountain Lakes--will now be a part of the new Independence Division. They'll be joined by Pequannock, Morris Catholic and St. Elizabeth, who remain in the Independence but will hardly recognize the place.

The change allows Pequannock to resume its rivalry with Butler in all sports (the football rivalry has continued during the past three years). It keeps a group of nearby schools together, and makes overall geographical sense with the exception of St. Elizabeth, which is included as the further north of the two all-girls schools.

The new Liberty Division comprises four ex-Independence members--Dover, Hanover Park, Madison and Pequannock--along with Whippany Park, Morristown-Beard and Villa Walsh. The league is compact geographically except for Dover, which isn't located too close to any other small schools.

The biggest change here involves Whippany Park, which is moved away from several longtime league rivals into a division of mostly unfamiliar foes. Also, Whippany now competes in a division with sister school Hanover Park, something the district had avoided in the past.

The third small-school division, the Freedom, will jump from six members to eight under the new alignment. The half-dozen existing members will be joined by Jefferson and North Warren.

Jefferson drops down from the big-school American Division based on its school enrollment. The Falcons will join a number of former Sussex County Interscholastic League rivals, such as Lenape Valley and Hopatcong, in their new division.

North Warren is the NJAC's newest school, moving over from the Skyland Conference. The Patriots will reignite a rivalry with another former Skyland school, Hackettstown, and enjoy significantly shorter road trips than they had in their old league.

With Jefferson moving down out of the top divisions, a new team is moving up, and as a result, each of the NJAC's big-school leagues has a new member.

Due to a large jump in enrollment, Chatham will move up from the Independence Division. Based on geography, the Cougars will be automatically placed in the National Division, joining schools like Morristown, Delbarton and Parsippany Hills.

To rebalance the top divisions, one National Division school had to be shifted to the American Division, and Morris Knolls is that school (again, based on geography). It's a big change for the Golden Eagles, who will move away from longtime rivals like Randolph and Roxbury. Instead, Knolls will be in a group that includes four Sussex County schools and its own sister school, Morris Hills.

This new alignment is slated to remain in effect for the next two school years. However, the recent shutdown of the New Jersey Technical Athletic Conference will result in more change involving the two part-time members of the NJAC. Sussex Tech will join the league for softball this coming spring, while Morris Tech is expected to join full-time come the fall of 2013.

State tournament sections

Unlike the upheaval in the NJAC divisions, most local schools aren't experiencing change in the NJSIAA general classification for state tournament play. Just three current league schools are on the move, including the NJAC's newest member.

North Warren, which was in North Jersey Section 1, Group II last year, drops down to Group I after a decline in student population. It is a return to the smallest group for the Patriots, and North Warren should have a good chance to make some noise as one of the larger Group I schools.

Roxbury is also on the move, dropping down from North 1, Group IV and, as a result, changing sections as well. The switch to North 2, Group III, puts the Gaels in the same section as five of its National Division rivals, and as the largest school in the section, Roxbury will be a team to watch in the states this year.

The other school on the move is a surprise, as St. Elizabeth jumps from North Non-Public B to Group A. A significant increase in student enrollment moved the Panthers up to the higher division, where they will be one of the smallest schools.

Also jumping up a division after adding students is Morris Tech, which as mentioned above, is likely to become a full-time NJAC member next year. Tech is also switching sections, going from North 1, Group I to North 2, Group II.

The NJSIAA's general classification covers fewer sports each year; it now only applies to soccer, tennis, basketball, baseball and softball. All other sports have their own classifications.

For a complete photo gallery of the Hackettstown-Parsippany Hills soccer scrimmage by Robert Harris, click here.

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