Annually, Austin Prep has fielded one of the top athletic programs in the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association, excelling in particular with its boys’ and girls’ hockey programs, along with baseball, softball, and tennis in the spring season.
The Cougars have perennially contended for the Globe’s Nason Division 3 Award for top overall winning percentage among Catholic co-ed schools, collecting trophies after the 2018-19 and 2019-20 school years.
But on Thursday morning, the Augustinian Catholic school for grades 6-12 in Reading announced that it is ending it membership with the MIAA and the Catholic Central League to join the New England Preparatory School Athletic Council for the 2022-23 school year.
In its first year in the NEPSAC, Austin Prep will compete independently against schools from several leagues within the conference.
The decision, said Austin Prep head of school James Hickey, “is an inflection point in the history of Austin Prep.”
“The school’s membership in the NEPSAC creates opportunities to engage in athletic competition that maximizes the balance of academics and athletics, increasing visibility in the college athletics recruitment process, and competing at athletic facilities on par with our own,” he said.
Hickey said Austin Prep was thankful to all of the schools “we have competed against over the years,” especially fellow Catholic schools and members of the Catholic Central League.
This winter, the Austin Prep girls’ hockey team (12-0) is ranked No. 1 in the Globe’s unofficial Power Rankings, and the boys’ hockey team (6-1) is fifth.
“We are excited to see what the future holds for Austin Prep as a member of the NEPSAC, and grateful to the leadership of the NEPSAC and all its member schools for welcoming us to this exceptional association,” Austin Prep athletics director Patrick Driscoll said. “We are honored to have been extended this opportunity.”
Driscoll said the school’s application was recently approved by the NEPSAC athletic directors and executive board. Scheduling for 2022-23 will now ramp up now that the move is official.
Jeff Newhall, AD at fellow Catholic Central member St. Mary’s of Lynn, said “We’re all kind of in the same boat, in that we have to do what’s best for our school.
“And Austin Prep thinks that this is best for their school. They’ve been one of our closest competitors for a number of years. We get along very well with the administration and will certainly miss competing with them. We wish them all the best, but as we look forward, we have to continue to strengthen the Catholic Central League and maintain what I think is one of the best leagues in the state.”
With the addition of Bishop Feehan and Bishop Stang in 2020, the Catholic Central has 12 members through the end of the school year: Archbishop Williams, Arlington Catholic, Austin Prep, Bishop Fenwick, Cardinal Spellman, Cathedral, Cristo Rey, Matignon, Saint Joseph Prep, and Saint Mary’s.
Austin Prep, founded in 1961 and opened to students in 1963, has a total enrollment of 565 students, according to the MIAA numbers for the 2021-23 alignments.
Globe correspondent Nate Weitzer contributed to this report.
Craig Larson can be reached at email@example.com.