Eastern Panhandle AAA schools form EPAC
Eastern Panhandle high schools have had their share of athletic alignments over time.
Some of the associations have been somewhat distant among the membership. Other groupings have been more sport-specific and not all-encompassing.
Now the Eastern Panhandle Class AAA schools have a league of their own.
Agents with State Farm Insurance and athletic directors from the Eastern Panhandle’s Class AAA?schools gathered Thursday to announce the formation of the Eastern Panhandle Athletic Conference.
The six Triple-A schools from Berkeley and Jefferson counties, along with their corporate partner, formally announced Thursday the start of the Eastern Panhandle Athletic Conference – EPAC for short.
Hedgesville, Martinsburg, Musselman and the new Spring Mills from Berkeley County and Jefferson and Washington from Jefferson County comprise the all-sports conference.
Nine State Farm insurance agents from the two counties, along with a matching grant from the corporate headquarters, are bankrolling the league with a tidy sum to operate it in its first year and expectedly years to come.
“This is going to be a nice league,” said Martinsburg athletic director Greg Reed, who is serving as the organization’s president.
“We will play everybody in all sports, and there will be a league champion in all sports.”
Reed said the local athletic directors have been discussing such an alignment for the last five years, and the opening of Spring Mills made the situation more viable.
The partnership with State Farm solidified the association of schools, who have paid $300 to $500 annually to belong to a league.
The EPAC will have $9,000 to start.
“State Farm is super-excited,” said agent Eric Gates, serving as the business group’s spokesman. “As State Farm agents, we’re proud of our community commitment.”
Gates said the local agents have built “relationships” with the schools anyway, explaining, “We’re there to help.
“It’s a natural extension.”
Plans for the league include awards for league champions and all-conference teams, as well as “old-style award banquets with athletes and their parents,” Reed said.
He said the league is open to expansion, but it will be strictly for AAA schools in West Virginia and schools must participate in all sports in which they field a team.
“Who’s to say there won’t be seven, eight, nine teams down the road?” Gates said.
As a result of the move to the EPAC, there will be no more Class AAA in the Potomac Valley Conference. It will return to having divisions in Double-A and Single-A exclusively.
“Three years ago, the PVC took us in in all sports,” Reed said. “They were very good and very receptive.
“We’d have to go to Moorefield to meet with the Single-As and Double-As. It didn’t make sense.”
The schools determined the EPAC was more logical.
“We’re tired of bouncing around from league to league,” Reed said.
Plus, there’s the stature the Class AAA teams locally have been achieving.
“There’s no place like the Eastern Panhandle right now,” Reed said. “We’re starting to take over West Virginia.”
Jefferson won its fourth straight Class AAA boys track state championship, Martinsburg its third AAA football state title in a row and claimed the boys basketball state crown and Hedgesville won the big-schools baseball title during last year’s school year.
There have been a handful of other state team titles won locally over the last few school years, as well.
“You see where the state championships are coming from,” Gates said.
In addition to Gates, the participating State Farm agents include Kay Lewis, Jerry Williams, Dave Piepenbrink, Dawn Newland and Pam Neely from Berkeley County and Tammy Sirbaugh, Lana Shultz and Bob Snyder, representatives from Jefferson County.