RALEIGH — Coaches, student-athletes and parents in Bladen County are breathing a collective sigh of relief after the third phase of realignment by the North Carolina High School Athletic Association was released on Thursday.
The new conference alignment puts East Bladen and West Bladen into a split Class 1-A/2-A, 10-team conference along with Columbus and Robeson counties.
Bladen County athletic directors — Patty Evers at East Bladen and Kim Cain at West Bladen — had spent time railing against a realignment that initially had their schools in a conference that included James Kenan, Wallace-Rose Hill, Spring Creek, East Duplin, Midway, Goldsboro and Clinton. On the second go-round, Goldsboro was dropped, but the length of trips for Bladen schools remained.
Thursday’s announcement of a split conference puts the Eagles and Knights in a group with Class 2-A teams from Whiteville, South Columbus, St. Pauls, Red Springs and Fairmont; along with Class 1-A schools from South Robeson, East Columbus and West Columbus. Not only does that proposal substantially shorten trips, bit also re-establishes a number of natural rivalries.
“I like the new change because of travel,” Evers said Friday. “In the other two proposals, the travel was just too much. With this proposal, student-athletes will not miss as much class time, coaches and students will not arrive back to campus at late hours, parents can travel to games, and the headache of sometimes finding schools to schedule in non-conference will be minimized.”
For instance, football programs already looking at a nine-game conference schedule will only need to find one or two (if they decide to play an endowment game) non-conference opponents.
Cain was also happy to see the new proposal, especially since the original realignment would have caused West Bladen to consider eliminating some of the smaller sports like tennis and golf. Cain had proposed to the NCHSAA that the Bladen schools join a conference with Columbus and Robeson schools, and that suggestion received support from Bladen Schools Sup’t. Robert Taylor and local parents.
The NCHSAA still has a little work to do before the conference realignments are set in stone. Written appeals to the current proposal must be received by the NCHSAA by — ironically — April 1. From there, a meeting will be held April 13 to finalize the realignment proposal and, in May, the NCHSAA’s Board of Directors will vote on the final proposal.
W. Curt Vincent can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.