By Charles Prince
The North Jefferson News
Second in a series. Today we look at the coach’s reaction of region and class realignment for our area school’s football schedules.
According to coaches in the North Jefferson area, Alabama High School Athletic Association realignment creating nine-team regions are not fair to the schools in those regions.
“I don’t think nine-team regions are fair at all,” Gardendale head coach Keith Luker said. “You only have a 4-in-9 (44 percent) chance of making the playoffs. But schools in seven-team regions start the year with a 4-in-7 (57 percent) chance of making the playoffs.”
Gardendale is in one of only two nine-team regions in Class 6A, which also has four eight-team regions and two seven-team regions. In the past, the Rockets had been in an eight-team region while a Class 5A team.
Luker’s Rockets were recently reclassified as a 6A team, moving up from 5A. However, they were only eight students above the largest 5A school, leaving them as the second smallest 6A school in the state.
The Rockets placement into 6A, Region 6 appears to be unfair considering Gardendale’s enrollment compared to the majority of the schools in Region 6. Even the head coach of Gardendale’s biggest rival thinks the move is unreasonable.
“I just don’t understand why Gardendale got put into Region 6. It looks unfair to me what they did to them,” Mortimer Jordan head coach Greg Watts said. “They got put in a region with seven teams in the Top 35 in enrollment for 6A, when it would have made more sense to put them in the Region 5 with Minor. In that region, the school’s are closer to Gardendale’s size than the team’s in region 6.”
The largest school in Region 5 will be Hillcrest-Tuscaloosa with 899 students, while seven of the nine teams in Region 6 have 955 students or more.
According to the coaches, creating nine-team regions has created some headaches in finding games to schedule. Teams in nine-team regions, must play eight region games, so they lost one non-region game. All schools will play non-region games on the season’s tenth week, but for schools in nine-team regions, they drew for their second week of non-region play. Teams in eight-team regions retained non-region games on weeks one, five and ten of the 2008 and 2009 seasons.
“I think the nine-team regions will hurt a lot of schools financially,” Watts said. “You need to have three non-region games, so you can schedule your rivals that draw big gates. If you lose the chance to play one of those games, somebody is going to get hurt. You need about $50,000 or $60,000 to run a high school football program these days and if you lose a game that would have drawn a big crowd, I don’t see how you can make enough money.”
Watts said drawing a week for one of the two non-region games forced some coaches to scramble to find an opponent. Mortimer Jordan drew the sixth week of next year for a non-region game and was able to schedule Moody.
“We got lucky,” Watts said. “We travel pretty well and Moody travels pretty well, so it should be a game that helps both schools out financially.”
Gardendale drew the fourth week for its first non-region game next year. According to Luker, the placement of the week affects the number of schools you can schedule.
“You only thing you can do is find another team in a nine-team region with the fourth week, or a team from a seven-team region with the fourth week as a non-region week,” Luker said. “We have three schools we’re trying to schedule for that week, but we haven’t finalized it yet.”
Luker said Gardendale would most likely play either Chilton County, Parker or Decatur in the fourth week, but the exact team probably won’t be known until Nov. 30 at the earliest.
Fultondale stays in a eight-team region
For Corner and Fultondale the changes due to realignment are not as pronounced, as both schools remain in eight-team regions.
For Fultondale head coach Keith Register, the changes mean his Wildcats will likely play tougher teams, but that’s not a bad thing for his program.
“We’ll be in with ACA (American Christian Academy),” he said. “They’re still playing, (in the 2A playoff semi-finals), so they’ll probably be the best team in the region. But, even if they’re the best team there, most of our team will be a year older and they’ll get bigger and stronger over the off season like they did last year, so we can still compete and fight for a playoff spot again. We want to get better and improve our program and playing better competition is one way you do that.”
One big change Register foresees for the Wildcats is longer road trips.
“We’ll be traveling more,” he said. “So it’ll cost us more to play in this region than the one we played in the past two years.”
One change coming for Register’s club is in the Wildcat’s non-region schedule. After winning seven games this season and reaching the state playoffs, some schools decided not to play the Wildcats.
“It was hard finding non-region games for the next couple of years,” Register said. “Coming off the year we had, some people who played us in the past didn’t want to play us. I had to schedule better teams. I’d like to play an easier non-region schedule, but playing better teams can make you better.”
The Wildcats will play tradition-rich Addison, a school that boasts three state football titles, to open the 2008 season, but the site has yet to be determined. In the fifth week of the 2008 schedule, Fultondale will host 3A Good Hope and on the regular season’s final week, they’ll travel to 2A Pleasant Valley. All three of those schools reached the state playoffs this season.
This year, none of the Wildcat’s non-region opponents reached the postseason.
By Charles Prince