Proposed realignment would shake up area conferences
Wed. November 30, 2011 at 1:44 p.m. | By Powell Latimer | StarNews Staff Writer
A budding football rivalry between East Duplin and Topsail could end quickly with the proposed high school realignment for the 2013-14 school year. (Photo by File Photo By Matt Born)
On Wednesday morning, the NCHSAA released its preliminary model for the 2013-17 realignment. By 6:30 a.m., South Brunswick High School athletic director Chris Roehner's phone was already ringing.
South Brunswick principal Wayne Price had seen the release and wanted to meet with Roehner about the model, which placed South Brunswick in a Class 3A conference with three Fayetteville-area schools – a travel nightmare.
The realignment process is a contentious one under the best of circumstances, and doubly so now as schools face the added pressure of budget cuts in the past two years. Rising costs may force more conferences split between classifications, including a likely combination including schools from Pender, Brunswick and New Hanover counties.
The computer model used by the NCHSAA grouped schools into conferences of 6-to-9 teams based on geography. The Mideastern 4A Conference, which includes the four Wilmington public high schools, dropped New Bern and Rose and added Purnell Swett and Lumberton. The Waccamaw and Tri-County conferences were divided among several new groupings, with Whiteville moving down to 1A.
There were no split conferences in the model, but schools have until February to come up with alternative conferences and present them to the NCHSAA. To save money on travel and reduced missed classroom time, it's likely that area schools will push for further changes.
"We're open to it, but split conferences aren't ideal," NCHSAA spokesman Rick Strunk said. "They're created as a matter of necessity for geography."
Facing budget cuts and long bus rides on school nights, local high schools will push for a split 3A/4A conference between South Brunswick, West Brunswick, Topsail and the four Wilmington public schools. All seven schools have comparable programs, including swimming (South Brunswick) and lacrosse (Topsail).
"That seems to be the most feasible plan," Roehner said. "We play Ashley, we play Laney in non-conference games in most sports. We've made a very conscious effort the past two years to include New Hanover schools in our schedules."
New Hanover County schools seem to support that move. Coaches praise the current alignment for its competition, but the costs of transportation proved too much of a strain. Rose even tried to leave the conference last year, appealing to the NCHSAA in a move which blindsided the rest of the conference and left fractured relationships.
Topsail athletic director B.J. Horne said the Pirates are weighing options between a split conference with Brunswick and New Hanover schools or a 3A conference with schools in Onslow and Craven Counties.
"We've spoken with the Brunswick AD' and the coaches were wanting to sell us on the split," Horne said. "I've also spoken to the Onslow schools. ... We're considering the 3A/4A split and the pros and cons of that as well as trying to put something together with the Onslow and Craven schools.
A split conference with South Brunswick, West Brunswick and Topsail would be save money on travel for all schools, eliminate class-time missed and provide a level of familiarity.
"I think the Wilmington schools would really like to do that," Hoggard athletic director Scott Braswell said. "And talking to (athletic director) John Floyd at West Brunswick, I thought they were on board."
Braswell added that he felt the NCHSAA would do a better job this realignment listening to its member schools. The process in 2008 left all the schools in the Mideastern Conference with a bad aftertaste.
"I did not think the NCHSAA did a good job of listening to people (in 2008)," Braswell said. "I think there was a group that got what they wanted, and a group that was sacrificed. I sense this time out, because of the problems created, especially in light of Rose getting lawyers and state legislators involved, the NCHSAA is much more sensitive to our concerns."
Proposed realigned conference affiliations for the 2013-14 to 2016-17 school years by the NCHSAA. Schools have until February to propose alternatives to the high school association, which will then make its final decisions. For more analysis on these conference moves, go to VarsityNow.Blogs.StarNewsOnline.com.
Conference 15: Ashley, Hoggard, Laney, Lumberton, New Hanover, Purnell Swett
Conference 14: Gray's Creek, Terry Sanford, South Brunswick, Topsail, West Brunswick, Westover
Conference 13: East Bladen, Fairmont, North Brunswick, Red Springs, South Columbus, St. Pauls, West Bladen
Conference 14: Clinton, Croatan, Dixon, East Duplin, Northside, Southwest Onslow
Conference 12: Hobbton, Neuse Charter, North Duplin, Princeton, Rosewood, Spring Creek
Conference 13: Jones Senior, James Kenan, Lakewood, Lejeune, Union, Wallace-Rose Hill
Conference 14: East Columbus, Pender, South Robeson, Trask, West Columbus, Whiteville