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VHSL Changes: Critical vote set for today
VHSL UNDERTAKING MAJOR SPORTS RESHUFFLING
BY TAFT COGHILL JR.
When the Courtland High School football team entered the 2010 Group AA, Division 4 state semifinals, it never envisioned what would later take place.
The Cougars had rolled to eight straight victories before they were thumped 52–8 by Briar Woods.
Courtland athletic director Ronnie Lowman said a closer examination of the two schools, however, revealed the Cougars were at a disadvantage. Briar Woods, located in Loudoun County, had nearly 1,700 students. Courtland had fewer than 1,200.
The Virginia High School League has studied similar cases the past several years.
And that’s why a new six-classification system that will dramatically alter high school athletics in Virginia is expected to be passed by the VHSL’s Executive Committee today in Charlottesville.
“Some areas are growing and some are getting smaller,” Lowman said. “So we have to do something to narrow the gap. There is no argument against playing schools of like size. It’s the most fair and equitable way to have competition.”
TIME FOR A NEW ERA
The VHSL has used a three-classification system (Groups A, AA and AAA) since 1970.
The change is akin to what football has done since 1986 when it began rewarding six state champions. But the new system will place an even greater emphasis on grouping schools with similar enrollments.
Lowman said Courtland’s loss to Briar Woods is “a prime example of what this new plan will alleviate.”
VHSL communications director Mike McCall said the pending shift is “a big, but necessary, change.”
McCall said because many areas in Virginia have grown in population and more sports than ever are offered, the current system has become outdated. He said the new model, which would take effect in the 2013–14 school year, will vault the VHSL “into the 21st century.”
“I think any time you’ve had something in place for 40 years,” McCall said, “this is long overdue.”
Districts will remain intact with the change, but only for scheduling purposes.
Mountain View athletic director Greg Margheim said the Commonwealth District may continue to have its tournaments, even though it isn’t required to.
After regular-season play, teams will break into conferences. Colonial Forge, Riverbend and Stafford will be members of 6A–South, Conference 4. Brooke Point, Massaponax, Mountain View and North Stafford will participate in 5A–North, Conference 15.
Lowman said the Battlefield District may keep its tournaments as well, because the community enjoys them.
Of the six teams that will be in the Battlefield next year, four (Caroline, Chancellor, Courtland and King George) will be members of 4A–North, Conference 22, along with Eastern View, Fauquier and Liberty.
James Monroe and Spotsylvania, as well as Culpeper, will be a part of 3A–East, Conference 27.
Teams will advance to regional tournaments based on how they fare in conference play. Every team is allowed to enter conference play regardless of regular-season performance.
“I think it’s a good idea,” said JM Principal John Gordon, who is a member of the VHSL’s Executive Committee. “At the beginning, there were definitely a lot of strong concerns because a lot of questions weren’t answered. But as things have progressed, and things have been tweaked, there is a greater understanding of what is going to take place.”
NOT EVERYONE’S HAPPY
Still, concerns remain.
Margheim said some coaches believe many sports will become “watered down” and championships will be cheapened.
Lowman said that’s not the case. He said there will be between 51 and 55 schools in each classification instead of about 90 (45 or so each in sports with two state champions), but plenty of competition remains.
The Eastern Region, which is composed of schools in the Tidewater area, wants the VHSL to reconsider the plan.
Paul Joseph, the principal of Oscar Smith in Chesapeake, drafted a letter to the VHSL on behalf of the Eastern Region. Joseph and other principals in that area requested a postponement of today’s vote so that more details could emerge.
The Eastern Region believes the changes benefit the state’s smaller schools, but the effects on the larger schools “warrant more time” to consider.
“It is the Eastern Region’s contention that changes to this degree need to be thoroughly vetted, so a stronger state athletic program can emerge for all VHSL schools,” Joseph wrote. “The list of actions that would be impacted by this decision is staggering.”
Joseph went on to state that district play, district finances, district tournaments and conference governance were chief concerns, among other issues.
The Executive Committee has reviewed Joseph’s letter and other appeals, and the vote will take place today, McCall said.
If the new system is passed, it would take a two-thirds vote by all of the public schools in Virginia on Oct. 16 to overturn it. Margheim said that isn’t likely to occur.
A QUICK PUSH FORWARD
McCall said that because the system is considered “emergency legislation” it will take effect next school year. Athletic directors around the Fredericksburg area have already started educating coaches about the new system.
Margheim said the new model has “good points and bad points,” and “change is often hard for everybody.”
But he added that the shift will allow the Commonwealth more scheduling flexibility.
Next year, Orange and Albemarle will leave the Commonwealth for the Jefferson District. That will mean less travel for the five Stafford County schools, as well as Massaponax and Riverbend.
Margheim said the Commonwealth is also exploring “central site” district tournaments and other ideas to keep the rivalries alive.
“We still want to reward schools,” he said. “We still want banners. We still want trophies.”
Taft Coghill Jr.: 540/374-5526