It’s no secret football generates the most interest of any high school sport in Florida.
The second most popular pastime, at least every two years, might be nitpicking how the Florida High School Athletic Association creates its football districts.
“We recognize this is one of the most followed topics other than the state playoffs,” said Gary Pigott, the FHSAA’s senior director of athletics and administrator of the reclassification process. “It certainly gets a lot of attention and we do our best to be as fair and balanced as we can with everybody.”
Schools have until Jan. 18 to file a petition requesting a change to their tentative district assignments, which were released on Dec. 21. Locally, three high schools have revealed they plan to do just that — Community School of Naples, Dunbar and Estero.
Pigott said during a typical reclassification cycle, approximately 50 member schools file an appeal with the FHSAA. The majority, like Community School, which is seeking a move from Class 3A to 2A, petition to move down a classification.
Pigott said schools which are in the lower 10 percent of the enrollment range for their classification and can show a geographical hardship have the ability to appeal to be reassigned to a lower classification. Both seem to fit the Seahawks, who have an enrollment of 345 students in a class with a population range of 228-636, and would share a district with five out-of-county schools, the closest of which is Bishop Verot.
Dunbar, meanwhile, is seeking to move from Class 4A to Class 5A due to travel concerns. The Tigers’ closest opponent in their tentative seven-team district, which stretches from Tampa to Clewiston, would be LaBelle. If granted a move up to 5A-13, Dunbar would share a district with Cape Coral, Cypress Lake, Lemon Bay and Mariner.
“The primary thing is they want us to play at least five county teams,” Tigers football coach Phil Vogt said. “The other factor is that when Lake Placid comes in, that doesn’t exactly bring us a heavy gate. So we’re hoping to improve that and make it a little easier to schedule.”
Vogt said he was hoping to return Fort Myers to Dunbar’s schedule. The two schools last played in 2010.
A move for the Green Wave to a four-team district in Class 7A, which also includes longtime rival Charlotte, is creating talk of debuting an annual series which would also include Naples.
“We’re the three oldest schools in Southwest Florida; it would be great to get back to playing each other every year,” said Naples coach Bill Kramer, whose team last faced Fort Myers in 2006.
Meanwhile, Estero isn’t asking for a classification change, but rather a district shift based on geography. The Wildcats would like to move from District 6A-12, featuring eight Lee County teams, to 6A-13, which currently contains Barron Collier, Naples and Palmetto Ridge.
The unbalanced districts, which existed for the past two years, result from the FHSAA’s desire to respect county lines when it assigns schools.
“It would make more sense from a balance standpoint to move the two southernmost Lee County schools down and have two five-team districts,” Pigott said. “From the coaches’ standpoint, that’s what they prefer right off the bat. But the principals and the athletic directors, the people that pay the bills, for the most part, they want to minimize travel and keep the districts in county so it’s conflicting.”
In order to ensure a county is on board with a school’s decision to appeal its classification assignment, Pigott said the FHSAA is requiring a district superintendent or county athletic director to sign off on an appeal.
“Hopefully that will create a little more discussion at the local level to make sure that’s what best for the folks in that area,” he said.
Pigott said the FHSAA plans on releasing the finalized district assignments about 7-10 days after the next week’s appeal deadline.