There are major changes in the Gateway Athletic Conference beginning this school year.

The league moves from 15 to 16 members and from two to three divisions.

Joining the conference is Orchard Farm and Winfield while Duchesne leaves to join the AAA (Archdiocesan Athletic Association).

The 16 schools will be split into three divisions according to enrollment.

The South Division will be for the six largest schools, featuring Francis Howell, Francis Howell Central, Francis Howell North, Ft. Zumwalt West, Troy and Timberland.

The Central Division will be the home for five “medium-sized” schools, featuring Washington, Holt, Ft. Zumwalt South, Ft. Zumwalt North and Ft. Zumwalt East.

The North Division will be for the five smallest schools, featuring Warrenton, St. Charles, St. Charles West, Orchard Farm and Winfield.

“For us, the travel will be better with only four other schools in our division,” said Washington Activities Director Bill Deckelman. “We’ll still play against some of the other schools in the conference as well as some of the other area schools in many of our sports.”

The GAC will move to 17 members when the new high school in Wentzville opens for the 2013-14 school year. The school is expected to begin competing in varsity sports starting in the 2014-15 school year.

The new school will go either to the North or the Central Division.

For all sports, conference games only will be counted when two teams from the same division compete.

When schools from separate divisions meet, it will be considered a nonconference contest.

For volleyball, soccer, softball, basketball and baseball, division rivals will play against one another twice each season in conference matchups, creating a home-and-home series.

During the spring baseball season, the home-and-home series will be on consecutive days, preventing teams from using the same pitcher in both games.

“The positive thing for us about home-and-home is it should create rivalries within our conference that we don’t really have right now. It will be neat for the kids to have some rivalry games to look forward to,” Deckelman said. “Some people might think a negative will be that there’s going to be some schools we’re going to see a lot, but that’s what a conference is all about.”

For wrestling, golf, cross country and track and field, a division meet will take place toward the end of the regular season, which will involve all teams in the same division competing at the same venue.

Deckelman said the particulars about the wrestling schedule have not been finalized, but each team will have at least one dual meet against teams in the same division.

With a new football format in place throughout the state starting this fall, each GAC team will play conference games against all of their division foes, which will be a part of the nine-game regular season schedule.

That means Washington football will have just four conference games.