EVART — Evart and Pine River sports teams will have two new league opponents starting with the 2019-20 season.

The Highland Conference has announced Houghton Lake and Roscommon from the Jack Pine Conference will be joining the Highland beginning 2019-20 seasons.

Marion High School is exiting the Highland Conference after the end of 2018 spring season for the West Michigan D Conference.

“The Highland Conference is ecstatic about having Houghton Lake and Roscommon come into our league,” Dave Skinner, Highland Conference President and athletic director at Northern Michigan Christian School, said. “Both schools bring a high standard of tradition and success and we look forward to them making the Highland Conference an even stronger proponent of educational athletics.”

Besides Evart and Pine River, other teams in the league are Beal City, Lake City, McBain Public, McBain Northern Michigan Christian and Manton.

Evart athletic director Jay Wallace and his Pine River counterpart Shawn Ruppert welcome the addition of the new teams.

“The two schools are going to be a great addition to our conference,” Wallace said. “Both have a deep history of strong athletic programs. They bring in all the sports we currently offer and allow us to consider adding more. Currently their enrollment puts them at the top of our conference schools, but their projections in the next three years will put them closer to the middle.

“Both of the schools coming in have strong athletic programs. Both offer a variety of programs. With the addition of these schools it allows us to look into offering conference sponsored sports that we were not able to offer in the past. There are a couple of advantages to the expansion. It makes our numbers solid. When we were down to seven schools, with six having football it makes us very vulnerable. One of us getting swayed to move to another conference would really jeopardize the future of the league. Another advantage is scheduling. It can be a challenge finding non conference games that will fit our schedule.”

MNC is the only Highland school that doesn’t have football.

Wallace acknowledged there is some concern over increased travel.

“Yet, it is not different than many northern conferences,” he said. “We have been very fortunate to be located in the middle of our current conference schools. Many of our non-conference contests have similar travel distances.”

Ruppert agreed.

“I think that both schools will be a great addition to our conference,” Ruppert said. “We have played both schools in the past and the competition has always been good. Houghton Lake was fairly strong in girls basketball and volleyball this season and made the playoffs in football, while Roscommon typically has a good wrestling program and baseball team.

“I think that both schools will be a great addition to our conference. We have played both schools in the past and the competition has always been good. Houghton Lake was fairly strong in girls basketball and volleyball this season and made the playoffs in football while Roscommon typically has a good wrestling program and baseball team.”

An eight-team league means seven conference football games and only two non-league contests.

“We also will have four less non-league basketball/baseball/softball games to fill,” Ruppert said. “Our new vb schedule will work out great as we are looking at a combination of duals and tris to play everyone twice. There is also the possibility of other league sports now. I think it will help solidify our schedules.

“Both schools are very similar in size and demographics to the existing schools. They offer many of the same sports that we currently do. We may have a little bit more travel, but that might not be the case if we replace our furthest non-league games with.”

The Jack Pine has had eight teams for many seasons, but Clare athletic director Lisa Burns expects the league to return to that number very soon.

“I am new to the area, but I know that the Jack Pine Conference has been around for quite awhile,” she said. “The league is currently reviewing applications from schools who wish to be a part of the conference to fill the vacancies left by Roscommon and Houghton Lake. The principals of the schools in the conference will be voting in the coming weeks as to which of those applicants will be the best fit to join the conference.”