By JOSH STROPE
WHEELING - College conferences aren't the only ones making changes. New alignments have happened on a high school level near you.
The West Virginia Secondary Schools Activities Commission recently released the new sectional and regional formats for the upcoming season and plenty of Ohio Valley schools will have a new look to the postseason.
Many schools around the state either made the jump to a larger class or dropped back to a lower one. The only two local schools making the switch were Magnolia and Tyler Consolidated, going from Class AA to Class A.
But that doesn't mean there wasn't a lot of change.
No more is that evident that in AA, where the departure of the Blue Eagles and Silver Knights left just two teams in the Ohio Valley playing in the state's middle class - Oak Glen and Weir.
''We are kind of on an island and that is going to increase travel and make things harder on us,'' Oak Glen athletics director Phil Rujak said. ''It's something we are not used to. You develop a comfort zone playing some of these teams, building relationships with coaches and administration.
''But change is change and I'm sure the SSAC sat down and tried to make it as easy as possible on everyone.''
The Golden Bears and Red Riders will be joined in Region One, Section One with Fairmont Senior, East Fairmont, and North Marion, all coming down from Class AAA.
Section Two will consist of Braxton County, Ravenswood, Ritchie County, Roane County, and newcomer Webster County.
Soccer- which is Class AA/A - will see Oak Glen, Weir, Magnolia, Tyler Consolidated, Wheeling Central and Weirton Madonna (girls only). In recent seasons, the winner - which has been dominated by Weir in boys' and girls' - would advance to the state tournament in Beckley.
Instead, they will have one more game to advance, meeting either Fairmont Senior, East Fairmont, North Marion or Trinity.
''We know some of these teams have been very competitive in Triple-A,'' Rujak said. ''In certain sports they are good and certain sports they struggle. They have their ups and downs just like us. But we feel we are in a pretty strong situation with athletics at Oak Glen and we can compete with them. It will be new and will be exciting.''
Oak Glen could be the school hit hardest when it comes to the pocketbook. The northern-most school in the state will have to drive nearly two-and-half hours to get to North Marion, almost 45 minutes longer than it would take to get to Tyler Consolidated.
''It is going to take more creativity in the schedule as we are trying to schedule those games on a weekend or a Friday night,'' Rujak said. ''Our main objective is education No. 1. We can't get buses in Hancock County until 4:30 p.m. so going on a weekday is almost impossible.
''These are teams that haven't been on our schedule but we are working hard with each other to make this happens in order to fairly seed the tournament.''
On the Class AAA side, all eight teams in Region One were in Class AAA last season but the region adds three more schools in Parkersburg, Parkersburg South and Preston. Wheeling Park, Brooke, John Marshall, Morgantown and University were the mainstays.
The sections have been divided as Wheeling Park, Brooke, Parkersburg, and Parkersburg South in Section One, with John Marshall, University, Morgantown, and Preston in Section Two.
Yes, traditional rivals Wheeling Park and John Marshall - which are separated by 15 minutes - are in separate sections.
''I have to admit, when I saw it, I was very puzzled,'' Wheeling Park athletics director Dwaine Rodgers said. ''It's very interesting but when you add some schools like this, it makes for a very, very strong region.''
Scheduling hasn't been a problem for many of the schools as Wheeling Park, Brooke, John Marshall, Morgantown, University, and Parkersburg South schedule each other every season as part of the Two Rivers Athletic Conference.
The Patriots play Parkersburg in soccer but Rodgers expects them to become even more a part of future schedules. As for Preston, neither Wheeling Park or John Marshall has much history with the Knights.
''We've been playing Morgantown and University for the last 10 years so that won't be that big of a deal for us,'' John Marshall athletics director Chuck Duckworth said. ''Preston is a different story. It might be 20, 25 years since we have been down there.
''When you look at the landscape, the SSAC only had a couple choices so I see why they sent us down there. A lot of schools in central West Virginia dropped down and that left a big chunk. They looked at the map and we were closer to Morgantown and would be less time to travel for us than some schools.
''We are still in the TRAC and we will continue to play Wheeling Park and Brooke in the regular season so this doesn't bother me that much. It just means we won't have to play Park five times a season like we did a couple years ago (in basketball).''
In baseball and softball, Region One will be separated into four sections - Wheeling Park and Brooke (One), Parkersburg and Parkersburg South (Two), Preston and University (Three) and John Marshall and Morgantown (Four). The winners of Sections One and Two will play each other and will face the Section Three vs. Section Four winner for the Regional title.
If this was in place last season, the state softball tournament would have looked a lot different as champion John Marshall and runner-up Parkersburg South would have played in the regional title game, instead of the state championship.
''Parkersburg South and Parkersburg and Preston are going to be welcome additions,'' Rodgers said. ''I love competition. (The travel) will make home-field advantage that much more important so you are playing in front of your home crowd but that is something our student-athletes and our coaches always strive for.
''Not having JM is unfortunate, but if we come out of our section, hopefully they come out of theirs and we get to play.''
In Class A, Magnolia will join Bishop Donahue, Cameron, Hundred, Weirton Madonna, and Wheeling Central in Section One, while Tyler Consolidated is paired with Clay-Battelle, St. Marys, Paden City, Trinity, and Valley in Section Two.
Like baseball and softball, the sections are broken up into four - Bishop Donahue, Madonna, and Wheeling Central (One), Cameron, Magnolia, and Paden City (Two), Clay-Battelle, Hundred, and Trinity (Three), and Tyler Consolidated, St. Marys, and Valley (Four).
For a complete list, go to www.wvssac.org look under Classifications