It’s merely an initial draft, but the statewide conference realignment by the North Carolina High School Athletic Association is already causing a stir in Bladen County.
The next realignment is scheduled to be implemented for the 2017-18 school year.
Though the drawing board is just getting warmed up, Bladen County coaches and athletics directors are preparing their arguments against the proposal.
“We’ve taken two days looking over it and shaking our heads,” said West Bladen football coach Russell Dove. “It’s probably our worst-case scenario.”
East Bladen football coach Robby Priest, for the most part, is taking a wait-and-see attitude.
“I don’t have a big say in it,” he said. “But it’ll probably change four more times before all is said and done.”
That’s because the realignment committee has put East Bladen and West Bladen into one of the state’s largest conferences with nine schools. It’s also potentially one of the toughest Class 2-A conferences in the state and creates some astronomical travel.
Listed in the initial draft for what has been tabbed Conference M in Class 2-A are Clinton, East Bladen, East Duplin, Goldsboro, James Kenan, Midway, Spring Creek, Wallace-Rose Hill and West Bladen.
“None of our coaches seem to be real happy with it,” said East Bladen Athletics Director Patty Evers. “I think the travel will be bad for gates and parents will have a tough time getting to games. I am hoping for better results as the process goes along.
“I didn’t expect to see Goldsboro and East Duplin,” she added.
If that realignment sticks, it would get rid of the split conference the Eagles and Knights have been saddled with over the past several seasons, but it will instead create a short non-conference schedule in order to fit in the necessary conference matchups.
“I don’t really think about the split conference thing, but it does cut down on the non-conference games we can have,” Priest said. “But if that’s the way things stay … wow, it’ll be a really tough, competitive conference.”
Scheduling, however, is low on the list of concerns.
“From my own perspective, it creates a powerhouse conference and there would be some good teams that won’t go to the playoffs,” Dove said. “Second, all that travel, with some trips being 90 minutes or more, will have a negative effect on us; there’s no way we can feasibly do it financially.
“And the third thing is the kids,” he added. “They will be getting home really late on school nights and we will have to get them out of school a lot earlier for away games.”
Priest agreed with Dove, especially on the travel.
“That’s the biggest thing, especially for teams like baseball, volleyball, basketball and others who play on school nights,” Priest said.
The realignment committee will gather on Jan. 21 to hear feedback from schools about the initial proposal. At that time, the committee will make any adjustments deemed necessary and, shortly after, release its second draft.
Then, on Feb. 8 at East Carolina University in Greenville, representatives from all schools in the eastern portion of the state will meet to discuss that second draft.
“I know there will be some serious feedback coming from Bladen County,” Dove said. “I just don’t think this has been very well thought out.”
W. Curt Vincent can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.