The North Carolina High School Athletic Association (NCHSAA) released its initial proposed conferences for the upcoming 2017-2021 athletic seasons on Thursday, and the local schools are not pleased with the first outline from the state.
Essentially, there will be a two-for-one trade between the conferences that include the four local schools. South Stokes will shift down to the 1A classification, while Walkertown and Atkins will join the local 2A division. The official proposed conferences from the NCHSAA are:
Conference C (using mostly what has been the Northwest 1A): East Surry, Mount Airy, North Stokes, South Stokes, Bishop McGuinness and Winston-Salem Prep.
Conference D (mostly the Western Piedmont 2A): Surry Central, North Surry, Carver, Atkins, Walkertown, West Stokes and Forbush.
The small adjustments may make things easy to digest for the casual fan, but the local schools were extremely hopeful for drastic changes. The best-case scenario, according to the athletic directors from North Surry, Surry Central and Mount Airy, was to be placed in conferences that included historically rival schools to the west and south of Surry County (like Elkin, East Wilkes or Starmount), rather than remaining with their recent Winston-Salem rivals.
This disappointment was not a surprise to North Surry AD Shane Slate.
“Unfortunately, this is actually what I expected. … I knew what everyone was hoping for, but from what I saw, this was exactly how I believed the initial conferences would shake out,” Slate said.
Mount Airy AD Donald Price voiced his concern when the NCHSAA moved the Granite Bears into a conference stocked with Winston-Salem teams back in 2011, and he plans on returning to Raleigh to express his displeasure.
“My initial reaction is that this is the initial proposal from the NCHSAA, and Mount Airy High School and Donald Price are not happy with their decision,” Price said.
Price has been on the phone with other local schools in recent days in anticipation of this unfavorable decision. He is trying to gauge how the other athletic directors feel toward the new conferences before outlining a group of schools that will join together to oppose the NCHSAA’s planned alignment.
However, Price acknowledged that some of Mount Airy’s local rivals are perfectly content with the latest proposal for the NCHSAA. The Bears’ athletic director would not dive into specifics of which schools are seeking changes and which ones hope these conferences stick through the next round of proposals.
“All the answers are not positive for Mount Airy,” Price said. “But I’ve talked to pretty much all the schools, knowing this might happen. Just because Mount Airy doesn’t like it doesn’t mean it’s unsatisfactory. It’s going to be a long process, and we’re going to have to create a coalition between now and Jan. 8.”
The date that Price mentioned is when schools will have an opportunity to voice their concerns at the next NCHSAA realignment meeting in Raleigh. They can submit suggestions and appeals in writing before then.
A couple of the major reasons for the local schools’ frustration are travel time and historical rivalries. Surry Central and North Surry will see the most change, with two Winston-Salem schools added to what is now the WPAC.
“We are very disappointed that the preliminary conferences ignore the local rivalries, they ignore travel time, and they ignore the student-athletes’ time in the classroom,” Surry Central AD Myles Wilmoth said. “Schools with comparable size are within 15 minutes from (Surry Central), but we have to drive hours away.”
Wilmoth was adamant that the NCHSAA should spend more time focusing on travel distances when they sift through the recent proposal. He also cited the NCHSAA’s reluctance at producing split conferences, alignments that feature both 1A and 2A teams, as a big hurdle for the Surry County schools.
One local league, the Mountain Valley 1A/2A, is a split-conference that was left alone by the NCHSAA. 1A schools Alleghany, East Wilkes, Elkin, Starmount, and 2A schools Ashe County, North Wilkes, West Wilkes and Wilkes Central will remain conference rivals under the new proposal.
Wilmoth, like Price, has been on the phone in recent days trying to see which schools are unhappy with the NCHSAA proposal. He believes the three schools in the Surry County system will get together in the week after Christmas to develop a response.
However, Slate noted that it is going to take support from a variety of schools in the foothills region in order for actual change to take place.
“Any schools involved with our eventual proposed changes have to be fully on board,” Slate said. “We can’t just pluck schools out of the other conferences in our proposal if we don’t have their support.”
An updated proposal will be released to the public next spring, before the schools will have a second chance to make appeals. The NCHSAA Board of Directors will officially vote on the realignment plan during its meeting in early May, according to highschoolot.com
Last time around, in 2011, the local athletic directors’ efforts failed to come to fruition, as the NCHSAA forced the Surry County schools into conferences they didn’t feel best suited their athletic desires. There’s only one thing that could change the outcome in the coming months.
“Hopefully, someone will just listen to us,” Price said. “We have concerns that are valid for our student-athletes, and we just hope the state listens to those concerns.”
Reach Jackson at 415-4702 and on twitter @jacksonfuller16