Every four years, the North Carolina High School Athletic Association takes a look at conference boundaries and schools’ average daily membership (enrollment) numbers to realign its member schools into conferences – oftentimes moving schools up and down from classifications based on enrollment.
Last week, the NCHSAA came up with its first of four drafts of its conference realignment plan that would go into effect beginning Aug. 1, 2021, and running through August 2024.
The second draft is set to come out in mid-January, and there is an appeals process for schools who wish to make their case heard with potential concerns about the changes. However, if the past three realignments serve as any indication, there will not be many if any changes made from this point forward.
The final draft is set to come out in March, but if the state stays closely to what it’s proposed, there’s going to be some major changes coming to the schools in our coverage area.
The first big change comes in Union County, where Cuthbertson, Marvin Ridge, Piedmont, Sun Valley and Weddington move up to 4A after previously competing in the Southern Carolinas at the 3A level. They will join “Conference 58” with Porter Ridge, who remains in the 4A classification but leaves the Southwestern 4A Conference they have been a part of for the past eight athletic seasons. This new conference should remain a highly competitive league across the board.
That’s not the only big change, however.
Former Southern Carolinas stalwart Charlotte Catholic is taking the step back into 4A themselves and will provide a shot in the arm to the Southwestern 4A, bringing with them a strong athletic pedigree in football, tennis, swimming and diving and soccer. Other members of that league, dubbed “Conference 59” on the state’s draft, include long-time SW4A members Butler, Independence, Rocky River, East Meck and Myers Park. Providence will move back into this league, after the Panthers have spent the past eight in the So. Meck Conference.
That’s where we move next, and that conference will see some pretty big shifts as well.
Entitled “Conference 49,” the league will feature mainstays Ardrey Kell and South Meck along with Olympic, Harding and Berry as traditionally has been the case.
That conference, presumably still the So. Meck, also includes newly minted 3A schools West Meck and West Charlotte, who drop from 4A.
NCHSAA Commissioner Que Tucker said the state’s new realignment plan is not shying away from creating mixed-classification leagues as they did for the past four years.
“The number of split conferences in this alignment draft represents the realignment committee’s desire not to limit those,” she said. “It also takes into consideration the protection of natural rivalries and strongly considers geography and travel time. Of course, this means the way of getting into the playoffs must be reviewed and updated. That will come later.”
The So. Meck is one of many conferences across the state’s four classifications to have shared-class leagues.
“Conference 44” is basically the old Rocky River 2A/3A. It will house Union County schools Central Academy and Parkwood as 3A members along with 2A teams Monroe, where the Redhawks move down from 3A, and Forest Hills, who stays in 2A.
Anson and West Stanly, a pair of 2A schools, round out the blended conference.
Union Academy stays in the 1A classification, but is in a mixed league featuring 1A opponents Albemarle, Apprentice Academy, Gray Stone Day, South Stanly and 2A foes Jay M. Robinson, Mount Pleasant and North Stanly. The conference will be different after moving out of the Big South for the Cardinals, but they will again be traveling long distances to road conference games.
Overall, it seems the NCHSAA is even further trying to cut down on travel time to away games and keep group like-sized schools together. It seems strange, though, that Ardrey Kell, typically one of the state’s largest and most overcrowded schools, would be in a blended league with a pair of 3A schools, but sometimes it’s unavoidable like in Union Academy’s case. Either way, it should make for some fun new rivalries mixed with a good amount of the traditional ones fans crave.