Schools want to stay together
By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on January 25, 2012 1:48 PM
GREENVILLE -- Keep us together, please.
Athletics directors and school administrators from Wayne County made that plea during a realignment meeting conducted by the N.C. High School Athletic Association on Tuesday morning at East Carolina University.
Schools in all classifications from the eastern part of the state voiced their concerns over the Association's two realignment proposals. A majority favored the computer-generated draft which had no split conferences and opposed the Association's submission that included split leagues.
Wayne County emphatically vetoed the split model that places Charles B. Aycock, Eastern Wayne and Southern Wayne into a seven-team Classes 3-A/4-A league which includes Pitt and Craven County schools. The three schools collectively composed a letter to the Association describing their concerns over money, travel and academics.
"For the first time in recent history, we have enough 4-A schools in the mid- to northeastern regions of the state to form leagues without split conferences," Wayne County officials argued in their letter sent to the Association. "The first draft proposal kept many of the conferences very similar to what we have now. We feel this proposal is best suited for all schools involved... .
"These split conferences put an increased amount of travel on the small schools, while also placing them at a competitive disadvantage."
The three schools are currently members of the Eastern Carolina 3-A Conference that includes North Lenoir, South Johnston, Cleveland and Triton. The longest trip for any Wayne County school is to Triton, which is located in Erwin.
Wayne County officials devised a mileage chart that states Aycock, Eastern Wayne and Southern Wayne would experience at least a $20,000 per year increase in travel expenses in the proposed split conference. Additional class time would be missed and student-athletes would arrive home later from road games.
Charles Davis, athletics director at Aycock, said the 4-A schools -- J.H. Rose, D.H. Conley, South Central and New Bern -- had no qualms with either the computer-generated or Association-based draft. However, they requested not to be placed with the Wilmington schools again, but that issue was never tabled during the meeting.
West Craven filed an appeal to stay in the Coastal Conference.
"All we can do is appeal, express our concerns today in person and in writing, which we have done," Davis said. "The question comes in, what are you going to do with the 4-A schools? It's a hard thing to read whether (the proposal) was well-received or not. Hopefully it was, but I have no idea."
Small county systems have always had to venture outside their county to find non-conference games in every sport, which leads to more travel costs.
Historically, Wayne County schools have booked games with at least three to four different counties each season just to fill their respective schedules. In football, schools are required to sign two-year contracts with opponents for home and away contests.
Stretching the schedule further than your own backyard could lead to financial trouble such as the loss of gate receipts. Natural rivalries fizzle out because evenly-matched programs with similar student populations no longer play each other on a consistent basis.
The situation would definitely affect playoff berths in every varsity sport, most notably football. From 2005 to 2008, the 3-A teams involved in a split league with the Pitt County schools and New Bern were a combined 6-34 against the 4-A competition in football alone.
"(A) reduction in playoff appearances and loss of natural rivalries would be financially devastating to our already dwindling resources," county officials stated. "Historically, lower-classification teams in a split conference rarely play for conference championships. Over time, the morale of the student-athletes, the coaches and the surrounding communities dwindles from being continually over matched.
"As morale drops, participation will fall, ticket sales will drop and Booster Club sponsors will leave. This will leave the schools with a terrible and devastating financial burden."
North Lenoir is dropping to 2-A and will leave the ECC.
Smithfield-Selma filled that vacancy in the SAS draft and Davis said that Corinth-Holders, a new school in Johnston County, would also be added to make the ECC a seven-team league. Triton would exit the ECC and stay closer to its Harnett County brethren.
Johnston County officials have lobbied to keep their schools together. But another proposal pushes West Johnston and Clayton -- two 4-A schools -- into a conference with Rose, Conley, South Central and New Bern.
"According to other schools we talked to in split conferences, ticket sales dropped and whatnot," said Jabo Fulghum, athletics director at Eastern Wayne. "(Staying in the ECC) would help us as far as being more competitive. It's hard to tell, but it just depends (about the split league). There will be certain sports that can hold their own and I'm sure that will vary from school to school depending on the sport.
"We'll play where we have to play. We're going to do the best we can and accept whatever they give us."
In each of the last three realignments, Wayne County schools have been shifted in all directions. County officials hope there is no movement this time and they can make one more appeal in mid-March, if necessary.
The Association will finalize the realignment in May.