Messenger file photo by Chris McCarthy
By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor
Three local high school football teams either moved up or slid down after the Alabama High School Athletic Association released its re-classification for the 2021-22 and 20234 school years.
Gadsden City returns to Class 6A after eight straight seasons in 7A, a stretch that featured an 37-49 record and two state playoff appearances. In eight seasons as a 6A program from 2006 to 2013, GCHS went 63-31 with four postseason appearances and three region titles. Gadsden City’s 6A, Region 6 competition will include Buckhorn, Fort Payne, Hazel Green, Lee-Huntsville and Mae Jemison. GCHS is the fourth largest 6A team out of 57 schools.
For the first time in its 49-year history, Westbrook Christian will compete in Class 3A. The Warriors are the fourth smallest 3A school. From 1972 until 2021, Westbrook Christian/Westminster Christian belonged to 1A, 2A, the ACAC or the NACC. The Warriors’ region gauntlet next fall features Hokes Bluff, Glencoe, Geraldine, Ohatchee, Plainview Sylvania and defending state champion Piedmont.
“If your enrollment in your school goes, up, you’re going to move up in classification, so I see it as a good thing,” said Westbrook head football coach Drew Noles. “It’s something that we’ve been anticipating and it’s a great challenge. It’s a big step for our program and we’re going to play a few geographically based and built-in rivalry games (against Hokes Bluff and Glencoe) that a lot of people will be interested in.
“We know it’s a tough region, but we also feel like we left a really tough region with three teams [Spring Garden, Cleveland and Sand Rock] making it to at least the quarterfinals. You also have the state champion in Piedmont, which will always be a measuring stick for your program and kind of see where you are. Week to week, there’s not a bad team on the schedule. I think any coach will tell you, and I believe it, that it’s the best 3A region in the state.”
Hokes Bluff fell just shy of returning to 4A, where the Eagles spent eight years before moving to 3A in 2020. Hokes Bluff is the largest 3A school in the state, where next-door neighbor Glencoe is 37th out of 58 schools.
Hokes Bluff football coach Mike Robertson (pictured above) knew that it would be a close call whether his Eagles would land in 3A or 4A. He floated the idea that the AHSAA might be better served going back to area instead of region play, where schools would better be able to schedule more local games and thus bring better gates for home games.
“The weaker teams would have a chance to play one another and avoid going 0-10 or 1-9 or 2-8 in a region,” he said. “I honestly think that region play has made it tougher on coaches. It also costs us a lot of rivalry games, because we used to play everybody in our area. In the same way, the stronger teams like region play because it helps more with their scheduling. But it is what it is.”
Dropping down a class from 6A to 5A was Southside, where the Panthers last competed in 2018 and 2019. The Panthers’ Region 6 rivals will be Alexandria, Leeds, Lincoln, Moody, St. Clair County and Springville. Southside is the fourth largest 6A school out of 56.
Sardis will remain in 5A, where the Lions are the 37th largest school. Sardis’ Sand Mountain-based Region 7 consists of Arab, Boaz, Crossville, Douglas, Guntersville and Scottsboro.
Etowah (10th largest) and Ashville (54th) remained in Class 4A. The Blue Devils and Bulldogs will share Region 6 with Cherokee County, Fultondale, Good Hope, Hanceville and 2021 state runner-up Oneonta.
Both West End and Gaston remained in Class 2A. The Patriots and Bulldogs are 31st and 40th biggest schools in the classification, respectively. Their Region 6 opposition will be Cleveland, Holly Pond, Locust Fork, Pleasant Valley and Southeastern.
Coosa Christian stayed in Class 1A, where the Conquerors are the 14th smallest out of 62 schools. Coosa’s Region 7 schedule includes Appalachian, Cedar Bluff, Decatur Heritage, Gaylesville, Valley Head and Woodville.