The Milford School District is suing the Henlopen Conference in chancery court to keep its sports programs in the Henlopen South, re-starting a debate that it seemed to have lost last winter.


“We believe that the bylaws of the organization are very ambiguous, and that we need legal review of those to get at the real meaning,” Superintendent Robert Smith said.


 

 


 

 The Milford School District is suing the Henlopen Conference to keep its sports programs in the Henlopen South, re-starting a debate that it seemed to have lost last winter.

 “We believe that the bylaws of the organization are very ambiguous, and that we need legal review of those to get at the real meaning,” Superintendent Robert Smith said.   In the 14-district Henlopen Conference, Schools are divided between the north and the south based on student population. The seven least populous go to the southern division, which puts them in Division II for statewide competition. The schools with the most students go to the north and Division I.   Last year, the conference voted to move Milford into the north, effective August 2009. The district has fought that decision, at first within the administration of the conference and now with a lawsuit in chancery court. 

“To put it very simply, in the north, we are the absolutely smallest school that would be playing in Division I, in any sport,” said Glen Stevenson, athletics director for the district. “In the south, we would be one of the largest. Not the largest, but one of them. It just comes down to playing teams of like size.”

Where Milford ends up for the next two years hinges on how the conference counts students at the district’s Intensive Learning Center. The facility isn’t officially part of Milford High School, but uses classroom space there.

If those students are counted with the high school, MHS becomes the seventh-biggest high school in the conference, and goes to the north. If they aren’t, it stays in the south.

“The way the conference defines who is and isn’t a student is interpreted different ways at different times,” Smith said. “We wanted an impartial review of how these rules are written and how they should be applied.”

Officials of Polytech High School were the ones who brought the issue up in the first place. With Milford in the northern division, Polytech becomes the eighth-largest school in the conference and moves down to Division II.

There have been two votes on the question by conference officials – one by the athletic directors of the Henlopen schools and one by the district superintendents. Both came down narrowly in Polytech’s favor.

Whether they’re in the north or south makes a big difference for the MHS teams. The playoff-qualifying boys’ basketball team lost by double digits to teams like Dover this year, while the Division II state champion wrestling team still couldn’t muster the depth to beat Smyrna or Caesar Rodney.

“It’s all about numbers,” Stevenson said. “This year in football, I feel like we would have been very competitive in the north, but when there are injuries, we don’t have the number of kids to replace them that a Division I school would.”

He said the sheer size of schools like Dover and Caesar Rodney gives them an advantage over a school like MHS.

“It’s all about numbers,” Stevenson said. “This year in football, I feel like we would have been very competitive in the north, but when there are injuries, we don’t have the number of kids to come in as replacements that a larger school would.”

After the conference moved MHS to the north, the school had to scramble to pull together a new schedule that meets Division I requirements. Smith hopes that the court will hear the case with enough time for the district to reshuffle its schedules again if it does indeed go back to the south. 

“Especially with a season pending, we’re hoping that they’ll look at it by late spring or early summer,” Smith said.