By Jonathan Deal
The Alabama High School Athletic Association unanimously approved a new seven-classification system for championship play Wednesday beginning with the 2014-15 and 2015-16 school years. The seven-class system is being adopted for all sports.
The 7A classification will have a ripple effect across the state and no more so than in Limestone County.
Ardmore, Athens and Elkmont will move up a classification beginning in August 2014.
Ardmore moved from 4A to 5A, Athens from 5A to 6A and Elkmont from 3A to 4A. Athens and Elkmont have not changed classifications since 1984 when the AHSAA went from four to six classifications. Ardmore was a 3A school until 2004.
“When we saw there was 60 (schools) in a class, we knew that would put us in 5A,” said Ardmore Athletic Director Rusty Bates. “We’ve been growing each year. So we kind of knew we were getting close. If people above you start losing kids, then naturally, you are going to move up.”
The new seven-classification football alignment places the 32 largest high schools in the new Class 7A. The remaining six classes were divided as equally as possible with 60 schools in 6A, 61 in 5A, 60 in 4A, 60 in 3A, 58 in 2A and 58 making up Class 1A.
If they AHSAA had put 56 teams in 5A, Ardmore would have been the largest school in Class 4A. Instead, Ardmore will be the 10th smallest in 5A and is nine students over the 386-student population cutoff for 4A.
Elkmont finds itself in a similar position as one of the smallest schools in Class 4A. Elkmont moves up from 3A and is the sixth smallest school in 4A.
“We were kind of hearing that we might move up,” said Elmont principal Garth Garris. “We got word that it would be 60 teams in each class except 7A, so that pushed us into 4A. We were the eighth largest school in 3A, so we thought there was a chance (to remain 3A). We were anticipating which way they would send us.”
Athens will compete in the 6A classification for the first time in school history. AHS is one of many 5A teams across North Alabama, including Cullman, Hartselle and Muscle Shoals that will compete against one another in Class 6A.
“No, we were not surprised,” said Athens principal Christopher Bolin about the move. “We would have stayed 5A if they would have stayed with six classes. From a travel standpoint, there is not much difference.”
East Limestone is now the eighth largest school in Class 5A. West Limestone, Clements and Tanner remained in the middle of their respective classifications.
AHSAA Executive Director Steve Savarese said the seven-class system allows the AHSAA to group schools more closely in enrollment, also reduces the need for nine-team regions in football and has created fewer five-team areas in sports like basketball, volleyball, baseball and softball.
“It also will allow more schools to make the state playoffs and will crown more state champions than at any other time in the history of our organization,” said Savarese.
AHSAA also voted to allow football teams 11 weeks to schedule 10 games.
Schools can still agree to play a noncounting jamboree or regulation game that first week but would then have the remaining 10 weeks to schedule the maximum 10 regular-season contests. This format will give schools more flexibility to schedule nonregion games.
See Friday’s News Courier for an in-depth look at the new area alignments for football and all other sports.