County teams face shakeup in new alignment

Published 8:15 pm Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Alabama High School Athletic Association released its reclassification for 2012-2014 earlier this week, affecting change for a number of local teams.

The biggest shift comes for Sweet Water, which has won five of the last seven Class 1A state championships. The Bulldogs will give the rest of Class 1A some relief in 2012 when it looks to begin a Class 2A dynasty.

Sweet Water will walk into 2A, Region 1, which consists of Flomaton, Southern Choctaw, Mobile Christian, Choctaw County, Washington County, Millry and long time rival Leroy.

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“It ought to be fun. It’s a good change-up for us. I think it is time. No matter what these next few weeks hold for us,” Luker said of the shift in classes. “We’ve enjoyed that about the playoffs, playing somebody we’re not familiar with. I think your kids get more excited about that, playing people they’re not familiar with.”

The region schedule is strengthened for the Bulldogs, providing a level of competition closer to the team’s 2011 non-region slate, which included Thomasville, Gordo, Handley and Leroy.

“We’re probably going to be looking at a pretty doggone good schedule again next year,” Luker, who is notorious for scheduling tough non-region games, said.

One game the Bulldogs will lose from its region calendar is the in-county contest against rival Linden.

“It’s something that the fans look forward to each year. I think that, as far as the fans perspective and the kids who know each other, (losing that game from the schedule) is a negative in that aspect,” Williams said. “And as far as the proceeds with the gate and all that, it is a negative in that aspect too.”

“They’ve gained so much momentum since Coach Williams got up there. It just sort of changed the whole aspect of the game,” Luker said.

The Patriots will remain in Class 1A, Region 1, which changes very little in terms of its makeup, but offers a much different outlook with the loss of the perennial power that is Sweet Water.

The Patriots will again contend with Marengo, A.L. Johnson, Fruitdale, McIntosh and Saint Luke’s, as they have over the last two seasons. The Linden schedule will also now feature J.U. Blacksher, which drops from Class 2A, and Marengo County foe John Essex.

Jerome Antone, head coach for the John Essex Hornets, is excited about the shift in regions as his team will face the other three 1A teams in the county rather than having seven games against opponents from further away. Antone, whose team has had to play Maplesville and Pickens County over the last two seasons, is also pleased with what he perceives as a more open region.

“It’s big for our program. With us having done all the traveling, this will definitely help John Essex financially. I feel the kids have always wanted to play Linden and A.L. Johnson and Marengo and these local teams,” Antone said. “This is great. I’m excited. I’m just tickled to death. I feel like we have a great shot making the playoffs in this region. It’s a great opportunity for us. I’m not saying it is going to be easy. But I feel as though we can be very competitive.”

While Class 1A, Region 1 has four teams from Marengo County, it may be the most spread out of the eight AHSAA, 1A groupings, spanning 150 miles from its northernmost school in Demopolis and its southernmost institution in Mobile.

“Out of all of 1A, we might have the most total mileage as far as travel,” Williams said.

The travel is just as demanding for Demopolis, which stays in Class 5A, Region 3.

While the Tigers’ region remains the same in name, its look is drastically different. Under the AHSAA’s previous alignment, the Tigers spent much of their time traveling north to play Central-Tuscaloosa, Paul Bryant, Brookwood and Chilton County.

Those four teams will move out of Demopolis’ region during this cycle and the Tigers will instead be required to go as many 130 miles south to take on Saraland.

Upstart Saraland made the jump from Class 4A to Class 5A for the upcoming cycle. In the original release of the realignment, Saraland was set to compete in Class 5A, Region 1. However, the AHSAA dropped an updated version of the classification list Tuesday evening that accounted for the previously omitted Pope John Paul II school in Huntsville. The addition of the Huntsville-based school moved Saint Paul’s back to 5A after a brief few-hour stint in Class 4A. Saint Paul’s return to 5A, Region 1 forced Saraland into Region 3 with Demopolis and sent long-time Demopolis foe Chilton County northward to compete as a member of Region 4.

The fresh alignment leaves Demopolis with a region consisting of familiar foes Selma and Greenville and new arrival Citronelle, as well as Jackson and Sumter-Central, which made the jump from 4A along with Saraland. Rounding out the region is Satsuma, which drops from Class 6A.

Former Demopolis region-mate Wilcox-Central dropped to 4A under the new alignment.

While the Tigers’ region will require more time on the road for all teams involved, it also holds the promise of being more competitive with the additions of a Satsuma team that steps down a class and a powerhouse Jackson team that leaves its 4A days in the rearview mirror.

Released along with the reclassification for football was also the new basketball areas for all AHSAA member schools.

Linden will occupy Class 1A, Area 4 along with A.L. Johnson, John Essex, Akron and Sunshine. Marengo will go south and compete with J.U. Blacksher, Saint Luke’s, McIntosh and Fruitdale in 1A, Area 1.

Sweet Water will contend with Southern Choctaw, Choctaw County and Millry on the hardwood in 2A, Area 2.

Demopolis will face Selma, Sumter-Central and Greenville in Class 5A, Area 6.