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VHSL Changes: Coaches weigh in on the move to six classifications



Though the full ramifications of the VHSL’s change to six classifications are unclear, even to the coaches who have been following the proposal closely, two things do seem clear:

  • There will be many more state champions crowned in the smaller sports, a change many coaches seem either indifferent to, or openly opposed to.
  • Big changes to the district alignments—particularly with Orange and Albemarle moving out of the Commonwealth District and Eastern View and Culpeper leaving the Battlefield—will lessen travel during the regular season, and open up more options in scheduling, a positive change in the eyes of most coaches.
  • Field hockey will change from two to three state champions, with the bottom four classifications competing together (as they do now) and the top two classifications playing for separate titles.

    Wrestling will double—from three to six—the number of champions it crowns. So will cross country, golf, volleyball, baseball, boys soccer, girls tennis, outdoor track and softball.

    Boys tennis (five champions), girls soccer (five), lacrosse (two), swimming (four per gender), indoor track (four per gender) and gymnastics (two) will also be handing out more end-of-season trophies.

    “I think it’s a little watered down,” said Colonial Forge wrestling coach Bill Swink. “It could potentially hurt college recruiting.

    “I think there already is equitable division, and I think three classes in a state like Virginia is good.”

    The vast majority of the coaches interviewed by The Free Lance–Star agreed with Swink: The current number of state championships is sufficient.

    “I think it’s kind of the path of this generation,” Courtland volleyball coach Bob Hott said. “All the little kids get medals and trophies. The more champions you have, the more people feel good about themselves.

    “I would just as soon throw everybody in the same pot, and have one champion.”

    Schools that end up in the upper half of a classification split, like Colonial Forge (with a 2012 enrollment of approximately 1,750 students, destined for a 6A designation), will still compete with schools like T.C. Williams (3,000 students), Landstown (2,500) and Woodbridge (2,500).

    But for Mountain View, Massaponax, North Stafford and Brooke Point, landing in 5A will have them paired with schools of more similar enrollment.

    Not that enrollment is everything.

    Swink has built a wrestling power at Colonial Forge. Mountain View and Stafford have been perennial contenders at the state level in field hockey. And the entire Commonwealth District has been one of the state’s best districts at churning out distance runners for cross country and track.

    “In cross country I feel like we’re going to be in pretty good shape for a while,” said Stafford track and field coach Pete Augrom, who will lose many of the state’s best cross country opponents when he’s competing in the 6A-South. “But in track you have the traditional powers—Western Branch, Lake Braddock those schools that always have the really good sprinters.”

    Colonial Forge volleyball coach Keith Mesa said he’d vote against the change to six classifications. But he’d also vote against the current system.

    “I think Virginia is a hard state to classify,” he said. “There’s not a real uniform system of school building, so we end up with a lot of schools of varying sizes.”

    One change Commonwealth District coaches are nearly unanimously in favor of is moving Albemarle and Orange out of the district. The Patriots and Hornets will compete during the regular season in the Jefferson District, built around schools in the Charlottesville region.

    “At least once a week we’re making those teams have to travel,” Mesa said. “I think right there you really need to start looking at, if these kids are student–athletes, that’s not what you’re saying if you do that. There’s no way that can help kids.”

    With Orange and Albemarle, the Commonwealth has grown large geographically, and large in terms of the number of schools.

    The VHSL allows a maximum of 16 regular-season field hockey and soccer games. So this year and last, the district schedule—two games against each of a school’s eight district opponents—sucked up the entire regular season, allowing no room to play nondistrict games against tough opponents.

    “What I really want is the ability to play out of my district, just so we can play the better competition,” North Stafford boys soccer coach Iric Bressler said. “We haven’t been able to do anything like that the last two years. I’d like to play somebody outside the district.”

    Many of the 25 small-sports coaches interviewed by The Free Lance–Star do seem open to the changes. Most said they would vote against the six-classification proposal, but do recognize the need for changes in how teams are paired.

    All seemed eager to figure out exactly what the changes will mean for their sport.

    “Sometimes change is good; sometimes it’s not,” Mountain View field hockey coach Pattie Sullivan said. “We’re going to have to feel this one out.”

    Justin Rice: 540/368-5045