After a month-long holding pattern during which Alabama coaches and administrators awaited the results of a vote by the Alabama High School Athletics Association to determine reclassification, a decision has finally been reached.
AHSAA officials voted unanimously on Wednesday to approve the creation of a seventh classification after debating the issue at length during a four-hour work session Tuesday night.
The change, which will apply to all sports during the 2014-15 and 2015-16 school years, will place the state’s 32 largest schools by enrollment, including Central and Smiths Station, into the highest classification. Those teams will be divided into four regions.
The other six classes will divide the remaining schools as close to equally as possible. Russell County, which was one of the biggest 5A schools, will rise to Class 6A.
The decision, which was made around noon on Wednesday, ignited furious scrambling by coaches to begin to schedule spring, exhibition and non-region games for the upcoming school year.
“It’s been chaos for the past two hours, 47 minutes,” Central principal Tommy Vickers said with a laugh. “Everyone in the state of Alabama is scrambling for games.”
Coaches around the state will meet in Montgomery on Thursday to discuss region scheduling, after which the rest of the scheduling will take place in earnest.
Central and Smiths Station fell among the highest 32 teams and will be grouped with Auburn, Enterprise, Jeff Davis, Lee-Montgomery and Prattville in Class 7A, Region 2.
Notably absent from that group is Opelika, which has played Smiths Station in football every year since 1990, Central every year since 1973 and Auburn every year since 1932. It is unlikely Opelika, which is in Class 6A, will be able to maintain rivalries with all three.
“I can’t imagine not playing Opelika,” Vickers said. “But it may work out that way where we just can’t play them. They moved into a tough region, picking up Oxford, Benjamin Russell and Pell City. They didn’t just stay in 6A and get a gravy schedule. Those are all good football teams.”
Vickers noted that while Central lost two good opponents in Opelika and Carver-Montgomery, it picked a couple up in Enterprise and Prattville, both of which the Red Devils are fairly familiar with.
Vickers said he and assistant principal Todd Stanfill were looking on Wednesday at potential opponents in Georgia to fill Central’s open dates. He mentioned Class AAAAA teams like Shaw, Hardaway and LaGrange, later adding that Carver was on the list, though the teams have traditionally played an exhibition jamboree game.
He noted that the jamboree draws a lot of attention and has been a good source of revenue over the years.
“I’m sure Coach (Woodrow) Lowe would be fine with that (in the regular season) because they’re good competition,” Vickers said. “We do like having that extra game we can count on for a good crowd and a good gate, though.”
An 11th week was added to the season, which would fall on the weekend of Aug. 21-23 this year, during which teams have the option of beginning their regular season or playing an exhibition.
The postseason in Class 7A will be comprised of 16 teams, the top four from each region. Because there are less rounds, championship game participants will have an extra three days to prepare after their respective semifinals, having a weekend off while the other six classifications play their semifinals. The 7A championship game will then be held the following Wednesday prior to the other championship games on Thursday and Friday.
Perhaps overshadowed by the move to seven classes is the fact that Russell County will move back into Class 6A, where it will be grouped in Region 2 with Carver-Montgomery, Dothan, Northview, Park Crossing, Stanhope Elmore, Wetumpka and Carroll.
Warriors football coach and athletic director Demond McCoy said he had a feeling if officials voted to add a seventh class that Russell County would make the jump.
“I knew we were borderline either way, so it’s not surprising,” he said.
What did surprise him, though, was the fact that teams like Opelika and Carver-Montgomery remained in Class 6A. Speaking purely on what he’s heard about his new region opponents as well as recent history, McCoy said he expects Russell County to face plenty of stiff competition.
“All the way around,” he said. “There’s going to be a lot of people fighting for those four (playoff) spots. But until you see what you have to work with, you never know.”
He said he hoped the strides the team made in 2013 would be enough to improve participation in the football program, which would better prepare them to face the rigors of a 6A schedule. The team had more than 100 signups for the upcoming season, but he said that number only matters come spring and, more importantly, fall.
The other varsity sports will be grouped into areas. Central and Smiths Station will be grouped with Auburn in Area 4, Class 7A, while Russell County will play with Opelika, Valley and Benjamin Russell in Area 5, Class 6A.
Class 7A: Region 1, Alma Bryant, Baker, Davidson, Fairhope, Foley, Mary Montgomery, McGill-Toolen, Murphy, Theodore; Region 2, Auburn, Central, Enterprise, Jeff Davis, Lee-Montgomery, Prattville, Smiths Station; Region 3, Hewitt-Trussville, Hoover, Mountain Brook, Oak Mountain, Spain Park, Thompson, Tuscaloosa County, Vestavia Hills; Region 4, Bob Jones, Buckhorn, Gadsden City, Grissom, Hazel Green, Huntsville, James Clemens, Sparkman.
Class 7A: Area 1, Alma Bryant, Baker, Davidson, Mary Montgomery, Theodore; Area 2, Fairhope, Foley, McGill-Toolen, Murphy; Area 3, Enterprise, Jeff Davis, Lee-Montgomery, Prattville; Area 4, Auburn, Central, Smiths Station; Area 5, Hoover, Oak Mountain, Thompson, Tuscaloosa County; Area 6, Hewitt-Trussville, Mountain Brook, Spain Park, Vestavia Hills; Area 7, Buckhorn, Gadsden City, Grissom, Huntsville; Area 8, Bob Jones, Hazel Green, James Clemens, Sparkman.
Class 6A: Region 2, Carver-Montgomery, Dothan, Northview, Park Crossing, Russell County, Stanhope Elmore, Wetumpka, Carroll.
Class 6A: Area 5, Benjamin Russell, Opelika, Russell County, Valley.