03/18/04 — OPINION -- Realignment means new deal, new hand of cards

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OPINION -- Realignment means new deal, new hand of cards

By David Williams
Published in Sports on March 18, 2004 1:58 PM

If you are a fan of those poker shows on television -- and statistics say more and more of you are -- you ought to see the hands being played by the N.C. High School Athletic Association and their member schools.

Welcome to High School Realignment Showdown.

The drama of it all is awe-inspiring -- the players all trying to make their best hand from the cards dealt to them by the NCHSAA pit boss, as everyone tries to bluff everyone else off their hands.

The stakes are high -- a school's place at a conference table that can decide the length of bus trips, the size of gate receipts and the competitive ability of the school's sports teams for five years.

Win, and you take home a big pot. Lose, and you go begging until 2009.

There's a lot of tables and a lot of action all around the room. Let's peek in at the 1-A table first.

The Carolina 1-A and Super Six 1-A will stand pat as they are, although the Carolina will lose powerhouse Farmville Central. That makes it a six-team league -- cozy, with little long travel involved.

No one will miss the Jaguars -- their departure helps the entire league in football, girls basketball and track. Rosewood becomes the heir apparent for Carolina's top-dog role, although Ayden-Grifton and North Johnston have the numbers to make it interesting. Spring Creek's increasing enrollment makes it a school to watch for improvement across the board.

A move to send Wallace-Rose Hill and James Kenan to the Carolina was quashed, leaving the Super Six as it was last season. Kenan is improving in football and is already a league contender in basketball, and that should not change very much.

Over at the 2-A table, changes abound. North Lenoir is still at the Eastern Plains table -- or whatever the new league will be called -- along with North Pitt and Greene Central.

The newcomers are going to give this competitive league a lot more punch.

Goldsboro brings solid basketball teams and an improving, capable football program. Wilson Beddingfield has good all-around programs that should be more competitive with its move down to 2-A. Farmville Central brings a stacked deck of talent across the board and should be contending for conference title from the start.

This league is very good -- in football (Goldsboro, North Lenoir, Greene Central, Farmville Central), boys basketball (Goldsboro, North Lenoir, Beddingfield, Farmville Central), girls basketball (Goldsboro, Farmville Central, North Lenoir), baseball (Greene Central, Beddingfield, North Lenoir, North Pitt), softball (North Lenoir, Farmville Central) and a lot of other sports.

The 3-A table has unwanted players -- Greenville Rose and New Bern, who are determined to make a 4-A/3-A combo league that involves six unwilling 3-A schools. It seems the schools can't reach agreement on anything -- and the only thing that seems to be agreed on is that Rose will get its way, no matter who dislikes the idea.

The problem is that the Rampants and Bears are both talent-laden, strong 4-A programs with large student populations to draw from for teams. Few 3-A's can match up to those numbers, and no one wants to sit at a table with an opponent that has that stack of chips.

Many feel that Rose in particular has brought its own problems on itself, since Pitt County did not change its district lines to reduce the size of Rose below 4-A size when South Central opened. They have an ally in Pitt County Schools Superintendent Bob Dailey, who is on the realignment committee and cannot be blamed if he tries to help folks in his own area; and New Bern, who said it would go to a 4-A league in Wilmington but will not leave Rose in the lurch.

The amount of disharmony at Tuesday's realignment meeting sends Dailey and fellow committee member Joe Miller back to the committee with no report of an alternative plan that all agreed on -- so the committee will likely stick to the original plan.

Another committee member that has a quandary in his own yard is committee chairman Jimmy Tillman. A native of Wilson, Tillman's three home-county schools are being split apart -- an unpopular move by the folks in Wilson. Those folks want Tillman to make it better, but that will be difficult. Beddingfield's chances for moving back up to 3-A look bleak, and putting Fike and Hunt in the same conference can set off a domino effect among the 3-A schools that could make a lot of folks mad.

Wayne County's 3-As are not out of the woods. The newly-formed league puts Eastern Wayne, Southern Wayne and Charles B. Aycock in a group with West Johnston, Kinston and Wilson Hunt -- a tight, closely set group that could be very competitive. But Hunt wants to be with Fike.

If the Hunt Warriors leave the group, the remaining members want to bring in South Central and D.H. Conley, but West Johnston does not want to drive all the way to Greenville for games and said they would try to get out of the league if that duo came in. The 3-A's in the combination league that now has Conley and South Central are vehemently against them leaving.

And someone has suggested that Rose and New Bern could be more competitive if they go in with bigger 3-A schools -- like Eastern Wayne, Southern Wayne and Aycock.

The final bets should be down and hole cards showing by April 20, when the realignment committee meets to put out the final plan.

Even though this pot will be split, the game will end with some happy winners and very upset losers.

We'll see who gets to wear which mask.