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Opinion: Looming changes for Piedmont District in 2013

Sunday, November 18, 2012

By DAVID REYNOLDS - Bulletin Sports Editor

If you enjoy Piedmont District athletics, I hope you enjoyed what you’ve seen so far this year.

It’s all about to change — and not all for the better.

In case you’ve ignored most of my articles the past few months (in which case, how dare you!), the Virginia High School League (VHSL) membership schools recently approved the 2013-15 Alignment Plan, which will radically alter the way things work for public high schools in Virginia.

Schools will now be organized into six classifications (1A, 2A, 3A, 4A, 5A and 6A) based on enrollment, and the Piedmont District will add three schools: G.W.-Danville, Halifax County and Franklin County.

Of the current five PD schools, Bassett will be in 4A; Magna Vista, Tunstall and Patrick County shift to 3A; and Martinsville moves to 2A. Franklin County gives the PD a 6A school, and Halifax County (5A) and G.W.-Danville (4A) are also both bigger than any current school in the district in terms of enrollment.

The consequences of the plan will be positive for a good chunk of the Piedmont District. For example, Martinsville’s playoff competition will now be much more in line with the high school’s size, giving the Bulldogs a fighting chance in the postseason rather than an almost-certain early-round exit.

Magna Vista also should reap quite a few benefits from the move, especially if the Warriors’ recent results on the gridiron stand up. The talent gap from the current Region IV, Division 4 to Conference 31 (Magna Vista’s new playoff pool) is steep. Instead of facing Christiansburg and Salem in early rounds of the playoffs, the Warriors would get Lord Botetourt and Northside.

But there’s one school the realignment is going to be particularly brutal on the next few seasons: Bassett.

According to Average Daily Membership (ADM) figures provided on the VHSL website, the Bengals’ average daily enrollment is somewhere around 1,219. That’s only about 100 students above the cutoff for 3A, and about 250 students less than the biggest 4A school, Nansemond River.

And the Bengals’ early round playoff opponents? Those would be from among a group of Salem, Jefferson Forest, E.C. Glass, Pulaski County, G.W.-Danville, Carroll County and William Fleming.

That list isn’t exactly the murderer’s row of the 1927 Yankees, but it’s close.

Bassett should be trying to squeeze every last drop out in all its sports this winter and spring, because essentially it’s their last stand.

I know anything is possible in sports – just ask the 1980 USA Olympic hockey team. But to go all “Game of Thrones” on you, winter is coming for the Bengals’ athletic program.

Patrick County is in a similar situation to the Bengals in 3A, as the Cougars missed the cutoff for 2A by 70 students.

(In a related story, both Patrick County athletic director Todd Purdham and Bassett athletic director Ron Proffitt voted against the realignment proposal.)

There’s also a major problem with the additions of G.W.-Danville, Halifax County and Franklin County. Next year’s district is about to be entirely too big and bulky.

While there are benefits to being cosmopolitan – it’s always nice to gain new perspectives from people from different places – it’s terrible for a district.

The PD stretches from 2A all the way to 6A (that’s five of the six classifications if you’re counting at home), the only such district to have that wide of a range of enrollment in Virginia.

That means the new PD will not have a true round-round format – most of the 2A and 3A schools will decline to play Franklin County in football – and even if it did, a school with more than 2,000 students is likely to defeat one with less than 1,000.

Call me a sucker, but I’m old school. I love round-robin play, and I think there’s a lot of pride to be taken home for high-school athletes who win a district title in any sport.

But what we’re going to see next year is the district splintering into play between large and small schools, and we’ll likely see a large-school PD champion and a small-school PD champion.

I know the athletic directors were essentially pushed into this by the VHSL Executive Committee’s decision to place Franklin County into the district, but where’s the fun in two PD titles?

Are kids from the group of smaller schools going to be able to take the same amount of pride in their district title knowing that they didn’t even face the bigger teams in the district? I doubt it.

The fall season of PD play had plenty of great moments: Patrick County’s volleyball team completed an undefeated regular season, there was a three-way tie at the top of the district football standings, and the Cougars’ cross country teams reigned supreme yet again.

And while I think there will still be plenty of great moments to come from area high schools in the coming years, I’m paying particular attention to Piedmont District play in the winter and spring seasons.

It’s just might be the last time it is truly relevant.


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