The Florida High School Athletics Association on Monday released new football district assignments, which has also affected the size classification of several local schools.
The operative word is “tentative,” as schools have until Jan. 15, 2015, to make appeals to the changes, which would exist for the next four years.
Under the proposed alignment, nearly all local schools are affected, some significantly. North Florida Christian and FAMU DRS would add Gainesville St. Francis to its District 1-2A, which no longer means a free trip to the playoffs. The top two teams in each district advance to the playoffs.
Florida High drops from 4A into 3A,, where it would play alongside Pensacola Catholic, Taylor County and Maclay.
“Florida High, year in and year out, is a great program, so is Pensacola Catholic,” Maclay coach Kyler Hall said.
“Catholic appealed last time to play up in 5A because of travel, so there still could be shake-ups. Travel for us would be better than what we were in, but there will still be some changes.”
Among the starkest changes, Madison County drops from 4A to the rural 1A classification. The Cowboys would then potentially face nearby Jefferson County, Mayo Lafayette and Hamilton County in district play.
“We average about 530 kids a day at our school,” Madison County coach Mike Coe said. “Our superintendent wanted us to be in it where our basketball, baseball, volleyball and softball teams would have a chance to compete.”
Madison County football has been a fixture in 4A and 5A for over a decade, where it has won two state titles but would have undoubtedly had more in a lower classification.
The Cowboys lost to selectively-private Jacksonville Bolles in the state semifinals this season, where the Bulldogs were 14-0 in semifinals under coach Corky Rodgers, who has brought in 10 state titles since 1990. Coe welcomes the opportunity to play closer to home, establish geographic rivalry and win on an even playing field.
“At the end of the day, you get tired of going down to Orlando and having to play University School, American Heritage, Bolles,” Coe said. “I’m going to call it like I see it: They don’t have to take the FCAT and that’s a big advantage over public schools. We’re pretty excited about it. That’s where we belong.”
It’s not just the small schools being affected, however. Live Oak Suwannee— a playoff team the last two seasons— will rejoin a 5A district with Godby, Wakulla and Rickards. The Bulldogs went 0-6 against those schools from 2011-12.
Additionally, Leon’s, Lincoln’s and Chiles’ three-team 7A district gets a big shift with the addition of Niceville, Cantonment Tate and Navarre, which all made the playoffs last year.
Besides football, the districts will have an impact on other sports. The Timberwolves have yet to make the playoffs in football, but the school’s baseball, softball and volleyball programs are annually among 7A’s best and are constantly fighting Niceville or Tate in the playoffs.
“It will make it more challenging, that’s for sure,” Chiles football coach Garrett Jahn said. “I’m going to get with our people (today) and see what routes there are.”
Leon coach Tim Cokely and athletic director Mark Feely don’t anticipate the district changing. That was the same scenario Cokely faced two years ago when he was hired, but then teams finagled the situation more to their liking.
“I did an interview last time and talked all about our seven-team district, then we ended up with three,” Cokely said.
“All of a sudden, I didn’t have enough games, so at the end of January I’m scrambling to find games. This just gets very political this time of year, really political.”
FACA All-Star game
The Florida Athletic Coaches Association announced its North vs. South football teams, which will play its 60th annual game this coming Saturday, Dec. 20, at 4 p.m.
Florida High coach Jarrod Hickman will be guiding the North team, which will have Seminoles quarterback Ronnie Harrison handing off to the area’s top two rushers, Godby running back P.J. Simmons and Madison County running back Eric Bright Jr. Additionally, Godby defensive back Marcus Holton, Madison County offensive lineman Zack Sprenkle, Florida High offensive lineman Tomarick Collier, NFC wide receiver Christian Philpott and Rickards linebacker Malcom Penny were selected to play.
Proposed FHSAA Football Reclassification
•Class 7A, District 1: District 1: Niceville, Cantonment Tate, Navarre, Chiles, Leon, Lincoln
•Class 5A, District 2: Godby, Rickards, Wakulla, Live Oak Suwannee
•Class 4A, District 1: East Gadsden, Marianna, DeFuniak Springs Walton
•Class 3A, District 1: Pensacola Catholic, Taylor County, Florida High, Maclay
•Class 2A, District 1: FAMU, North Florida Christian, Gainesville St. Francis
•Class 1A, District 3: Blountstown, Panama City Bozeman, Chipley, Holmes County, Port St. Joe, South Walton
•Class 1A, District 4: Franklin County, Liberty County, West Gadsden
•Class 1A, District 5: District 5: Hamilton County, Jefferson County, Mayo Lafayette, Madison County