High school ath­let­ics

Conference, class struc­tures could change with pro­posal.

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - HENRY AP­PLE

The land­scape of Arkansas’ high school ath­let­ics could change sig­nif­i­cantly if school ad­min­is­tra­tors ap­prove Pro­posal No. 9 next week dur­ing the Arkansas Ac­tiv­i­ties As­so­ci­a­tion’s an­nual meet­ing of the gov­ern­ing body.

The pur­pose of the new pro­posal is to cut down on some of the travel is­sues schools face and to elim­i­nate the blended dis­tricts that were used last year and will be in place again this school year.

The pro­posal, which will be voted on dur­ing Mon­day’s meet­ing in Lit­tle Rock, would change the cur­rent clas­si­fi­ca­tion struc­ture in al­most ev­ery sport and lead to dif­fer­ent conference align­ments across the state. The changes, if the pro­posal passes, would be­come ef­fec­tive dur­ing the 2018-19 school year.

“It’s a big change,” Pea Ridge ath­letic di­rec­tor Kevin Ramey said. “The pro­posal

means new leagues and new teams and re­ally changes the dy­nam­ics of how we’ve done things. But it’s an ex­cit­ing pro­posal and one that has gar­nered a lot of dis­cus­sion.”

The pro­posal calls for the elim­i­na­tion of one class in sports such as bas­ket­ball, base­ball, soft­ball, ten­nis and track. Class 6A will con­sist of the state’s 16 largest en­roll­ment high schools — those cur­rently in Class 7A — but would al­ter the struc­ture of the re­main­ing class­fi­ci­a­tions. Class 5A would con­sist of the next 32 schools by en­roll­ment, with the next 48 in Class 4A. The re­main­ing schools will be di­vided into Classes 3A, 2A and 1A.

Foot­ball clas­si­fi­ca­tions would re­main un­changed un­der the plan.

“I think they’re try­ing to make things bet­ter for high school ath­letes across the state,” said Farm­ing­ton ath­letic di­rec­tor Brad Blew, who called the plan one of the best he’s seen in 15 years. “I think this is a pos­i­tive step for high school ath­let­ics as a whole. I think it’s a good

plan. It’s not a per­fect plan, but I think it will be an im­prove­ment.

“When we have that vote, I think it’s go­ing to be a very in­ter­est­ing vote with the AAA. I think there will be some schools that will be very pas­sion­ate, one way or an­other.”

In the cur­rent blended conference for­mat, which groups two clas­si­fi­ca­tions to­gether — 6A with 5A, 4A with 3A, and 2A with 1A — dis­trict games are dur­ing the reg­u­lar sea­sons in bas­ket­ball, base­ball and soft­ball. The teams then re­turn to their re­spec­tive clas­si­fi­ca­tions to be­gin post­sea­son play. Seed­ings for those post­sea­son tour­na­ments, as well as the se­lec­tion of all-state and all-conference play­ers, led to con­fu­sion at times, es­pe­cially when conference teams were split among three dis­tricts. Class 7A does not fol­low the blended conference for­mat.

Games that were played against teams in an­other clas­si­fi­ca­tions last sea­son of­ten weren’t counted to­ward their records when conference tour­na­ment seed­ings were done. For ex­am­ple, West Fork played its en­tire reg­u­lar-sea­son sched­ule in a

dis­trict com­posed of schools from Wash­ing­ton and Ben­ton coun­ties but is aligned with the 4A-4 Conference of mainly River Val­ley schools and did not play a sin­gle team from that conference un­til the post­sea­son tour­na­ments be­gan.

“We brought in school su­per­in­ten­dents from across the state and al­lowed them to com­ment about the blended dis­tricts,” AAA ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Lance Tay­lor said.

“The big­gest ques­tions that arose were about seed­ing these tour­na­ments.

“The blended con­fer­ences cut travel for about 92 per­cent of the state’s schools. That cut schools’ ex­pen­di­tures, and the closer games led to in­creased gates and helped fam­i­lies not have to take off work most of the day in or­der to watch their kids play. It wasn’t a per­fect plan, so we met with the su­per­in­ten­dents to see what we could to fix the prob­lem of seed­ing.”

The new pro­posal would also try to pre­vent smaller schools from hav­ing to play much big­ger schools. If the cur­rent sys­tem con­tin­ues into the 2018-19 school year, Huntsville, which moves up to Class 5A in the next cy­cle, would have to play bas­ket­ball, base­ball and soft­ball dis­trict games against Class 6A’s Rus­sel­lville, which has more than twice the stu­dent en­roll­ment.

In the cur­rent plan, Pea Ridge, Gravette, Prairie Grove and Ber­ryville will be among the largest Class 4A schools in the next re­clas­si­fi­ca­tion cy­cle for foot­ball only. Un­der Pro­posal No. 9, those four schools would rank to­ward the mid­dle of the pack in Class 4A for other sports, and likely would be joined by both Huntsville and Farm­ing­ton based on cur­rent en­roll­ment num­bers.

“The good thing about it is, if it hap­pens, it’s not real un­fa­mil­iar op­po­nents,” Gravette ath­letic di­rec­tor Nor­man Mitchell said. “It’s in­ter­est­ing that we’ve been for­tu­nate. Ev­ery­thing that hap­pens, we’ve had a good conference since I’ve been here. Travel has been good, and it won’t change our travel that much.

“I’m not s u re how Gravette will vote right now. From a com­pet­i­tive side, it’s bet­ter that we vote against it. Look­ing at the big pic­ture statewide, we still have some de­ci­sions to make.”

Blew said he would have liked the new pro­posal to in­clude foot­ball, but Tay­lor said foot­ball games are gen­er­ally only played once a week on Fri­day nights, so travel is not as prob­lem­atic as other sports that are played mul­ti­ple times dur­ing the week.

Other sports would be af­fected by the new changes in clas­si­fi­ca­tion. Wrestling and swim­ming will add a clas­si­fi­ca­tion by go­ing Class 6A, Class 5A and Class 4A and be­low, while cross coun­try will have five di­vi­sions in­stead of six. Soc­cer and vol­ley­ball will re­main about the same with four clas­si­fi­ca­tions — Class 6A, Class 5A, Class 4A and Class 3A and be­low.

Be­cause this pro­posal makes changes to the AAA hand­book, it re­quires twothirds of the vote from par­tic­i­pat­ing schools in or­der to pass.

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