Plymouth North High's move to the Patriot League was already underway when Eric Foley stepped into office as athletic director in 2012. After a nearly three-year process, the switch from the Atlantic Coast League will take effect this fall.
Plymouth North is bringing along crosstown counterpart Plymouth South to round out the Patriot League, which now boasts 12 teams.
The process, Foley noted, was put in motion by his predecessors and Plymouth South athletic director Scott Fry.
It entailed approaching Patriot League principals and athletic directors, who decided to take both schools into the conference, then seeking permission from the MIAA and the Atlantic Coast League to make the switch.
"Change is always exciting," said Foley, who coached girls soccer and taught physical education before becoming athletic director. "We have developed some good relationships in the Patriot League over the years. We hope to keep good relationships with schools in the ACL as well."
Geographically, the conference switch made sense.
In the ACL, the competition was great, but the road trips were an ordeal.
A trip from Plymouth to Nauset Regional High School in Eastham is at least an hour. In the winter or with traffic, it could take over 90 minutes.
"That is a trip that we will certainly not miss," said Dennis Azevedo, the girls' soccer and basketball coach at Plymouth North. "When you spend and hour and a half on the bus, then you get 15 minutes to warm up, you're not going to be ready to play physically."
Azevedo is happy to be joining the Patriot League for more reasons than just the shorter bus trips. He notes the conference's athletic pedigree.
"History tells you that they win," he said. "They are very competitive top to bottom.
"We are cautiously optimistic. We know we have a good program, but it won't be easy."
Plymouth North will join the Keenan Division, which also consists of Duxbury, Hingham, Quincy, Whitman-Hanson Regional, and longtime rival Silver Lake Regional.
"There is a natural rivalry there," said Azevedo, reminiscing about the days when Plymouth and Silver Lake used to face off as Thanksgiving Day rivals in football.
"You will definitely see that rivalry come back," added Foley, who hopes to see other rivalries along Route 3 rekindled.
Plymouth South will join Hanover, Middleborough, North Quincy, Pembroke, and Scituate in the Fisher Division.
Outside of travel, the conference switch has made scheduling opponents easier for the two Plymouth schools.
As part of a seven-member ACL, coaches and ADs had to arrange more out-of-conference games to round out the schedule. Now in a 12-team league, the need for nonconference games is much less.
For the ACL, many of those nonconference games came from schools in the Patriot League.
"We play a number of Patriot League teams every season," said Azevedo. "We are very familiar with them."
On the other hand, nonconference schools will have a tougher time scheduling games with the Patriot League. Not only has the departure of Plymouth made scheduling a little more difficult for schools like Marshfield, it has left the ACL pretty thin.
With just five teams left in the league, Marshfield field hockey coach Rick Fredericks had to find four more games to fill the schedule and will play more than half of the games out of the conference.
"It is what it is," said Fredericks, who also coaches girls' basketball and softball for the Rams. "I wish there were more schools."
Sitting 20 minutes north of Plymouth, Marshfield's travels in the Atlantic Coast League are even more strenuous.
"It is tough for the students during the week," added Fredericks, noting long bus trips in the winter down Route 3 and over the Sagamore Bridge.
"You leave school and it's already dark, and you're not getting back sometimes until 10:30. That's tough when there is school the next morning."
Fredericks also recalled making the 90-minute commute to Nauset for a softball game only to have the game rained out.
Scott Madden, Marshfield's athletic director, is very aware of the difficulties that travel presents for students, parents, and the school's budget.
"You pay for the mileage and you pay for the driver to make the drive there and back," said Madden. "It is a pretty penny for sure."
As the only non-Cape Cod school remaining in the ACL, Marshfield may be facing change in the near future, said Madden, who is entering his second year as athletic director.
"It's on the forefront. We are looking at the possibilities," he said. "We would love to find a league closer to us, but many conferences, like the Patriot League, are full."
For now, Madden and the rest of Marshfield's athletic teams are focusing on competing in the condensed, but still very competitive, Atlantic Coast League.
"We have to battle even with Plymouth out of the picture," said Madden, acknowledging that every ACL school has a sport it excels in. "Everyone is giving us a game in something every day."
Plymouth North, meanwhile, is looking to establish itself in a new, established league.
"People will be gunning for us because we will be the new guys in the league," said Azevedo. "We want to establish ourselves as a quality program in a quality league."
"We are here to win."
Michael McMahon can be reached at mcman92@ gmail.com.