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Local coaches react to AHSAA region play

The AHSAA determined Wednesday that it will stick with region play beyond the 2009 season, drawing a largely favorable reaciont from a number of Black Belt area coaches.

“I think it’s great for football,” Demopolis High head football coach Tom Causey said of the decision. “You’re in region play, every game is important. I think you get your top 32 teams in from every class when you do that. Region play allows the best teams in the state to make the playoffs.”

The association opted to extend region play which will feature either seven or nine team clusters rather than returning to a series of four-team areas.

“In area play, you get your area games in the first four or five weeks and then you’re cruising,” Causey said.

While the region play format may help the AHSAA to put together a stronger playoff bracket, it also helps rural teams field a full schedule.

“It makes scheduling so much easier,” Causey, whose team currently plays six region games a year, said.

“I’m in favor of region play,” Sweet Water High head coach Stacy Luker said. “Being in region play just makes scheduling easier all the way around because it guarantees you at least six or seven games.”

Sweet Water, a member of a nine-team region in 2008, ran into a bit of a road block earlier this offseason when region foe Frisco City had its doors closed. That decision created a vacancy on the Bulldogs’ schedule that was ultimately filled by national power Bastrop High (La.).

Sunshine High head coach Jonathan Jenkins sees region play in its current form as a less-than-perfect situation, but also prefers the alignment to the alternative four-team area.

“Region play eliminates the probability of a 2-8 or 3-7 team making the playoffs,” Jenkins said. “One year in area play, a 1-9 team actually made the playoffs as a runner-up in a three-team area. Region play insures that 5-5 is generally the worst possible record although a couple of 4-6’s have slipped through over the years.”

Still, while he is in favor of the vote, Jenkins hopes the AHSAA will revisit some of the hiccups in the current system.

“It’s great as long as Montgomery looks at two problems the present setup has,” Jenkins said. “First, nine-team regions are a burden on traditional out-of-class rivals. We need to either expand the number of AHSAA classifications or we need to create an eight-man classification to run parallel. Most states have a public school 8-man football classification for the smaller schools. The AHSAA has not considered this as a possibility. It would alleviate some of the overload in Class 1A which is where the state decided to stick everyone left over at the bottom.”

Additionally, Jenkins understands the travel burden placed on some schools due to region play.

“Someone in Montgomery needs to use a map when drawing up these regions. Demopolis and Sweet Water’s regions stetch nearly from Mississippi to Georgia. Mileage is unreasonable,” Jenkins said.

While the system is far from flawless, and travel burdens are noticeable at times, Black Belt coaches largely responded positively to the AHSAA decision.

The association will redraw its regions and classifications again following the 2009-2010 academic year.