Photo: Kenneth Bothwell and the Southside football team will compete in Class 5A next season.
By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor
Two local high school moved in the Alabama High School Athletic Association’s re-classification for the 2018-19 and 2019-20 athletic seasons. The AHSAA’s Central Board of Control unanimously approved the measure on Nov. 30.
Southside, who competed in Class 6A the past two years, and Sardis, who competed in Class 4A, join Etowah in Class 5A. The Panthers are no stranger to 5A, as the competed in that class from 1992 to 2014. Southside also resided in 6A in 1990 and 1991.
This will be the Lions’ first foray into 5A competition. Sardis has been in 4A the past six seasons and was in 3A from 1998 through 2011.
With an enrollment of 591.4 students, Southside is the fifth-largest out of the schools classified in 5A. Etowah is the 36th largest with 458.25 students, while Sardis is the 10th smallest with 406.4 enrolled.
Southside head football coach Ron Daugherty was looking forward to playing teams that are comparable to the Panthers in terms of resources and numbers.
“It seems like in the past four years, we’ve been playing the same teams over and over. Oxford, Pell City, Albertville, Cullman have a lot more than us, so it’s a welcome change. I’m not taking away anything we’ve done over the past four years and I’m real proud of how our kids battles in 6A, but now were playing the teams that we should be playing. I also think it will put a little more fire in our blood in seeing different names on the schedule.”
Sardis head football coach Gene Hill expected the Lions to move up in class, pointing out that the school had gained approximately 80 students since the last time that Sardis turned in its enrollment data. He said that the two biggest benefits of being in Class 5A, Region 6 was the closer proximity of away games and better gate receipts at home games.
“Over the last six years in 4A, most of our [away] games were an hour to an hour and a half drive. For the last two seasons, our closest region game was 40 minutes to DAR (in Grant). That’s tough for people traveling to watch those games, and it was tough for our homes games because we didn’t get very good turnouts from the visiting schools. Now, our furthest away game will be at Alexandria, which is only about 45 minutes away. The rest of [the schools] are 10 or 15 minutes away.”
Hill also mentioned the excitement of playing geographical rivals such as Crossville, Douglas and Boaz in region play.
“It’s going to be a very competitive region, and we’re looking forward to the cha-llenge,” he said. “I also think this shows the rapid growth of our school and our community and how a lot of folks want to come here.”
Etowah head football coach Drew Noles is looking forward to competing against area schools in region action rather than non-region play.
“Anytime that you play three local schools, it’s fun. We’re fortunate in that there won’t a be a lot of traveling at all. The biggest thing for us is trying to put together a non-region schedule.”
Noles is familiar with Sardis, as he coached many games against the Lions when he was Boaz head coach from 2000 to 2012.
“We’ve been trying to build a few other rivalries since we’ve been here and hopefully we can do that with [Sardis]. They have a great program and coach Hill does a great job. With Sardis growing so much, it was just a matter of time before the two teams would be in the same region.
“A lot of the kids know each other, which makes it even more fun. We won’t have to do to a whole lot to get our kids up for that game.”
Gadsden City came out as the eighth smallest school in Class 7A with an enrollment of 1,133.7; Hokes Bluff emerged in the middle of the pack in in 4A with a 324.05 enrollment, 22nd out of 64 schools. Glencoe was the 39th largest out of 62 3A schools at 258.55. With an enrollment of 99.9 students, Coosa Christian stood as the 48th biggest out of 78 1A schools.
Hokes Bluff head football coach Mike Robertson anticipated the Eagles remaining in Class 4A, Region 6, which he often refers to as the “SEC Central” Division.
“We dropped Saks and picked up Cleburne County and both [schools] have really good football programs, so it’s about the same,” he said. “It’s look like we’ll be stuck in 4A for a while. It is what it is.”
Robertson noted that the Eagles’ 2018 schedule will still feature Etowah County neighbors Southside in Week 1 and Glencoe in Week 5 while adding Sardis in Week 10. Robertson said that Sardis was one of the Hokes Bluff’s biggest rivals when he was the Eagles’ quarterback in the mid-to-late 1970s.
“They were high on our list of teams we wanted to beat, and it’s good to get them back on the schedule,” he said.
Gaston, Westbrook Christian and West End all remained in Class 2A, but the school’s football teams will compete in the same region for the first time since 2012. Patriot head football coach Kyle Davis is looking forward to renewing a few local rivalries while saving a few dollars on much shorter travel time for away games.
“I think that this will definitely help support the football program,” he said. “We’ve got Westbrook, Gaston and Cleveland right here, and Ohatchee always travel really well. On a competition level, there’s no real glaring top teams like a Fyffe or a Tanner. Outside of maybe Ohatchee, week in and week out it’s going to be a pretty competitive region top to bottom. The difference between second place and fifth place might not be more than a couple of touchdowns.
“In terms of the distance, our people have always traveled well. It’s been some of the other teams in the region that didn’t travel well.”
For the first time, non-traditional students were included in the average daily membership figures reported for member public schools by the Alabama State Department Education and a competitive balance factor was approved for AHSAA member private schools based on the recommendation of the AHSAA Classification Task Force. Non-traditional students, which gained eligibility for the first time in the 2016-17 school year, include home-school and virtual school students that enroll in at member public school.
In addition, the association added a competitive balance factor to private schools by sport. While private schools are classified based on the membership data and 1.35 multiplier, those affected by the competitive balance factor will move up one class or division from where they are this school year for the respective sport but will remain in their respective classification for all other sports.
A team earned one point for a quarterfinal appearance, two points for a semifinal berth and four points for qualifying for a championship game. In the single-gender teams of football, volleyball, golf, baseball, softball and wrestling, seven or more points are required to move up. In the co-ed sports of basketball, soccer, swimming, tennis, cross country, indoor and outdoor track and field and bowling, 12 or more points are needed to move up.
Westbrook Christian head baseball coach and athletic director Matt Kennedy had mixed feelings about the new rule. one that moved the school’s girls soccer team and boys and girls golf teams up a classification due to their postseason success over the past three years.
“I think this was the best solution that [the AHSAA] could come up with. With us being a private school, I didn’t want the multiplier carried across the board and affect all of our sports programs, because I wouldn’t want to see us having to play 4A football or 5A basketball.
“I’ve been on both sides with the public and private schools, and what’s sad for me is the fact that there are teams out there that do recruit, but that’s across the board with both private and public schools. I think it comes down to an issue of integrity with each individual school.”
Kennedy noted that Westbrook has lost a number of student-athletes to public school transfers over the past several years.
“A lot of those kids were very good athletes who would have helped us tremendously,” he said. “To me, the issue now is how do we level the playing field with public schools that are doing the same thing recruiting-wise as private schools? You can’t regulate integrity, and that’s basically what [the AHSAA] is trying to do. I personally think that the 48 private schools that are out there are good for the association.”
For public schools, classification is based on Average Daily Membership (ADM) figures furnished by the State Department of Education for the upper three grades plus ninth-grade students that are retained in the ninth grade. Member private schools report that same data directly to the AHSAA. An index of 1.35 is used to determine the enrollment figure for classifying each private school member. Each private school student counts 1.35 for classification purposes.
Alignments are made for each sport in a classification based on the number of schools participating in a sport. Some programs may include two or more classes in a division. The alignments for each sport in a class are published in the AHSAA Sports Book each year.
Made up of superintendents, principals, athletic directors, administrators and coa-ches from across the state, the AHSAA Classification Task Force addressed many issues concerning the membership including competitive balance between schools in the respective classes.
The reclassification alignment data for each sport and the private school competitive balance chart can be found at www.ahsaa.com. Reclassification by enrollment data is located on the same website.
This article was supplemented by ahsaa.com