Hammonton High School is one of the most successful athletic programs in the Cape-Atlantic League, especially in football.
But the Blue Devils soon could be members of the Tri-County Conference.
Hammonton is “exploring” the possibility of leaving the Cape-Atlantic League and joining the Tri-County Conference, Hammonton athletic director Frank Torcasio confirmed on Thursday.
“There’s a bunch of different reasons,” said Torcasio, who declined to further explain the school’s rationale at this preliminary stage of the process.
Pitman athletic director Mike McAleer, the president of the Tri-County Conference, said that Hammonton has contacted the conference and that an application for membership has been sent to Hammonton.
“We expected to receive that back from them very shortly,” McAleer said.
Mainland athletic director Mike Gatley, the president of the Cape-Atlantic League, said that Hammonton has informed the Cape-Atlantic League of its intention to look into joining the Tri-County Conference.
“You’re always disappointed,” Gatley said. “But my feeling is always that if somebody is making an educated decision that they think is in their best interests, I respect that decision. I wish them the best of luck.”
The earliest that Hammonton, a Group 3 school, could join the Tri-County Conference would be for the 2014-15 school-year.
Hammonton would join the Tri-County for all sports, including football. As a member of the Tri-County Conference, Hammonton would become a member of the West Jersey Football League.
Hammonton is one of the best football programs in South Jersey. The Blue Devils have appeared in 15 sectional finals and have won five sectional titles since the start of the playoffs in 1974.
Under coach Pete Lancetta, who has a 197-52-2 record in 22 seasons, Hammonton has appeared in three of the last four South Jersey Group 3 title games. The Blue Devils beat Timber Creek for the title in 2009 and lost to Shawnee in the championship in 2008 and to Timber Creek in 2011.
Football scheduling is believed to be a driving factor in Hammonton’s interest in the Tri-County Conference. The Cape-Atlantic League is still working to devise a re-alignment for football for the 2012-13 scheduling cycle.
A preliminary proposal had the conference divided into two divisions, with Hammonton in the larger American Division with Group 4 teams as well as non-public programs Holy Spirit and St. Augustine Prep. But because Hammonton also plays cross-town rival St. Joseph’s on Thanksgiving weekend, the Blue Devils would be the only public school to play all three non-public schools in football.
Gatley said the CAL's 2012-13 schedule for football has not been determined and that the conference continues to explore different ways to re-align for football.
In the West Jersey, Hammonton likely would be placed in the Constitution Division with Timber Creek, Moorestown, Camden Catholic, Seneca, Cherry Hill West and Paul VI, or in the National Division with Shawnee, Pennsauken, Kingsway, Clearview, Winslow Township and Triton.
In the Tri-County for every other sport, Hammonton would be a member of the large-school Royal Division with schools such as Williamstown, Kingsway, Clearview, Cumberland and Delsea.
McAleer said that if the Tri-County receives an application from Hammonton, then conference officials would schedule a visit to the school to tour the athletic facilities. The issue would be discussed at the athletic directors meeting in February and the principals/superintendents meeting in March.
McAleer said a two-thirds majority vote would be needed to accept a new member.
Gatley said Hammonton has until July 1, 2012, to officially inform the Cape-Atlantic League of its intention to leave for the start of the 2014-15 schoolyear.
-- Phil Anastasia