Hammonton High School - an original member of the Cape-Atlantic League for 63 years - takes a major step toward leaving the league today.
Representatives of the Tri-County Conference are scheduled to tour Hammonton's athletic facilities today, according to Hammonton athletic director Frank Torcasio. Hammonton has applied to join the West Jersey Football League for that sport and the Tri-County Conference for all other sports.
If the Tri-County accepts the Blue Devils, they are automatically included in the West Jersey Football League. The earliest Hammonton could leave the CAL is 2014-15, under the CAL constitution.
Torcasio declined Thursday to specify why Hammonton applied to join the Tri-County Conference.
"This is all in the beginning stages," Torcasio said. "There are several reasons, but we're at the exploratory stage, and I'd rather not go into it just in case we don't get accepted by the Tri-County. If it gets closer and it looks like we're going to get in, I have no problem explaining our reasons."
Hammonton's move comes as the CAL continues to create football schedules and divisions for 2012 and 2013. The CAL, like every other league in the state, realigns every two years.
CAL president and Mainland Regional athletic director Mike Gatley said the league has formed a committee to create football schedules for 2012 and 2013 that all 18 schools will have to accept. The committee has the authority to do this as part of the CAL's constitution, Gatley said.
Gatley also said CAL officials are scheduled to meet in March with representatives of the West Jersey Football League to discuss the CAL joining that league.
Many of the CAL's smaller schools have complained that it's not fair to play the league's three non-public schools - St. Joseph, Holy Spirit and St. Augustine Prep - in football. The public schools complain that the non-public schools have an advantage because they can draw athletes from a wide area.
But Hammonton is a football power. The Blue Devils are 197-52-2 in 22 seasons under coach Pete Lancetta. Hammonton has won five South Jersey titles and lost to Timber Creek in the 2011 South Jersey Group III final 33-7.
Over the past five years, Hammonton is 4-3 vs. the CAL's non-public schools, including three straight wins over rival St. Joseph from 2007-09. The Blue Devils also have no problem playing larger public schools: They are 23-6 vs. the CAL's Group IV schools since 2007.
The realignment of CAL football teams always causes controversy because of the league's divergent membership. The CAL must satisfy the needs of Group IV schools, a few Group III schools, Group II schools and non-public schools.
Two of the league's non-public schools - St. Joseph and Holy Spirit - are perennial state powers.
"It (football realignment) is one of the most difficult things we come across every two years," said Gatley, who was AD at Hammonton for 10 years before taking the Mainland job last summer. "The landscape of our league is like none other in the state."
The CAL has been struggling with realignment for two months. The league had a committee that developed some proposals that failed to gain support.
Gatley stressed that during the past eight weeks any school could have submitted a realignment proposal for the league to consider. "Out of the 18 schools that have football, we had two proposals to look at," he said.
The committee that will develop the football schedules consists of five members - a large-school representative, a small-school representative, a non-public athletic director, a principal and a county superintendent.
Gatley declined to identify the individuals on the committee.
"I don't want to compromise anything that's going on," Gatley said.
Gatley said the new committee will use data to develop the schedules. He declined to specify what that data is.
"Once we have it done," he said, "I'll be happy to talk about it. But no doubt we're establishing criteria and using empirical data."
Hammonton leaving the CAL would shake up the South Jersey sports scene. The Blue Devils were one of the six schools that formed the CAL in 1949.
Tri-County president Mike McAleer of Pitman High School said his conference will discuss Hammonton's application at its February meeting and possibly vote on it in March.
Hammonton has until July 1 to officially notify the CAL that it is leaving the league for 2014-15.
The irony of Hammonton's proposed move is that the entire CAL may soon be part of the West Jersey Football League. If the CAL combines with the West Jersey League, it would give its teams the flexibility to schedule games against schools of similar enrollments.
"We wouldn't be doing due diligence if we didn't look at other options," Gatley said. "This isn't revolutionary. There's a reason why other leagues (formed the West Jersey League). They were going through the same problems we are, although, I will tell you, at a lower level."
Contact Michael McGarry: