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AHSAA reclassification shakes up area football

For some, nothing changed. For some, a little bit changed. And for some, nothing’s the same.

That’s the case for the 14 AHSAA member football teams in the area in the wake of the organization’s biannual reclassification, announced over the weekend and revised Monday. Each member school was ranked according to recent enrollment figures, with the smallest 64 comprising the 1A classification, the next 64 2A, and upwards through 6A, which will only feature 63.

As before, each 64-team classification will be divided into eight eight-team regions. The area’s 14 teams have been slotted as follows:

* Demopolis moves up a class and into Class 5A, Region 3. They will be joined by Brookwood, Bibb Co., Chilton Co., Dallas Co., McAdory, Shelby Co., and Wilcox Central.

* Livingston and Greene Co. stay put in a dramatically different Class 4A, Region 4. They will face Central-Tuscaloosa, Fayette Co., Holt, Jemison, Northside, and Oak Grove.

* Greensboro drops down a class into 3A and joins 3A Region 4 alongside Aliceville, Carbon Hill, Cordova, Gordo, Montevallo, West Blocton, and Winfield.

* Sumter County and Francis Marion remain in 3A, but slide to Region 1 where they will face off with Calhoun, Central-Hayneville, Choctaw Co., Clarke Co., Mobile Christian, and Washington Co.

* R.C. Hatch welcomes a number of teams to 2A, Region 4, where they will join American Christian, Hale Co., Holy Spirit, Oakman, Pickens Co., Shades Mtn. Christian, and Thorsby.

* In 1A, Sweet Water, Linden, John Essex, A.L. Johnson, Sunshine, and Akron all stay in a Region 4 with only one change, though a big one: with two-time region champion American Christian shifted to 2A, the region now includes South Lamar.

* Marengo’s 1A Region 1 was one of the rare regions at any level to remain unchanged. The Panthers will again face J.U. Blacksher, Coffeeville, Frisco City, Fruitdale, McIntosh, Millry, and J.F. Shields.

For several area schools, however, the above classification was the second one announced for their team. After the AHSAA’s first announcement, the Alabama School for the Deaf elected to remove themselves from competition for the AHSAA 1A title in order to continue to play more games against other region schools for the deaf.

This caused a ripple effect as one school was moved down from 2A to 1A, 3A to 2A, etc. ,in order to make up for the missing slot. In turn, those shift caused changes in the regional alignment.

The team bumped from 2A to 1A to make up for the ASD’s absence, for instance, was Linden. Instead of being the smallest 2A school, however, the Patriots are now the new 1A’s largest school. The AHSAA had initially moved Maplesville into 1A Region 4, but with Linden returning the Red Devils shifted into their previous home, Region 3.

In similar ways, Shelby Co., replaced Central-Tuscaloosa in Demopolis’s 5A Region 3, Central fell into 4A Region 4, and several other moves had to be made.

One team doing some of that moving was Greensboro. After getting the huge news that the Raiders would be dropping to 3A, coach Michael Reynolds was then informed that his Raiders were moving again, from their initial 3A region into Region 4.

“They’ve tossed us around a bit,” Reynolds says. “But we’re excited. The only thing we can control is how we prepare.”

Despite the drop in classification, repeating the team’s 2004 playoff appearance won’t be easy, Reynolds says.

“We’re going to get to play teams like Gordo, Aliceville, Winfield, Cordova … there’s a lot of strong teams,” he says. “That should give us plenty of ammunition to get the guys into the weight room this winter. Our job’s just to get better to make sure we can compete against these teams.”

For Sweet Water head coach Stacy Luker, the departure of American Christian from Region 4 means that his Bulldogs and ACA won’t decide the region title between them as they have the past two seasons. But Luker points out that with the inclusion of South Lamar, 9-2 in 2005 and champs of 1A Region 7, and the usual Region 4 suspects the drive towards a regional title in 2006 will be anything but easy.

“It’s been sort of expected. We knew it was going to happen,” he says of ACA’s move. But South Lamar, that’s tough … Our region is so athletic, so competitive. There are a lot of well-coached teams in our region.”

Luker said that the burgeoning rivalry between Sweet Water and ACA would not just be left to dry up, however, as the schools have agreed to continue playing each other outside of regional play.

For Demopolis, the shake-up means a travel schedule head coach Doug Goodwin has called “horrendous,” with possible trips to Columbiana to face Shelby Co. and outside of Birmingham for McAdory. But there are positives, too.

“A lot of the teams we played back when we were 5A before will be in our region again next year. So there won’t be a whole lot of difference,” Goodwin told the times Monday.

In addition to the familiar 5A teams like Brookwood, Chilton, and McAdory, Demopolis will also face some familiar faces from their seasons in 4A in Bibb and Dallas. If there’s any problem with the move, Goodwin says, it’s that the percentages regarding enrollment within a given class do play against the Tigers’ title chances.

“If you look at who has won the title in the past few years,” he says, “it’s been teams that were in the larger two-thirds. At first, at least, we’ll be in the smaller third.”