Region reclassification has its own winners and losers

Westminster may have obtained its biggest victory of the school year on Jan. 10, and it didn’t happen in any gym or on any field. In fact, not a single Westminster student participated or witnessed the event; it didn’t even make the WCAT news. You probably don’t even know what I am talking about, do you?
That fateful Tuesday only weeks ago, the Wildcat sports scene underwent a dramatic change thanks to the GHSA’s (Georgia High School Association) biennial process of reclassification during which 443 Georgia high schools are realigned into new classifications. This process aims to ensure that competition remains as fair and as manageable as possible for all GHSA- member athletic programs. The biggest change next year from a state-wide perspective will be the addition of 6th classification, which means that there will now be six state champions instead of five in the following sports: football, basketball, softball, soccer, cross country, track & field, baseball, tennis and golf. But how does this affect Westminster?
From a football and basketball perspective, it can be stated in three simple words: Buford is gone. We as Wildcat fans can finally wake up from the four year nightmare that were the Buford Wolves football and basketball teams. The Cats went a dismal 4-14 against the Wolves in football and basketball while we shared the same region (all four wins occurring in boys’ basketball between the fall of 2008 and spring of 2010). “Family” went 0-4 against the Wolves over that four-year stretch, including an embarrassing 42-0 loss in the 2010 region championship. Added to the girls basketball team’s 0-6 record against them, it is safe to say that those one hour trips up I-85 will not be missed.
The Wolves will not be the only former members of Region 6-AA making the move upward. Blessed Trinity, Decatur, Maynard Jackson, and Cross Keys will join the Wolves in AAA, but fortunately for them, in different regions. In addition to the new AAA members, Decatur and Therrell will join AAAA and Clarkston will make the daunting jump from AA to AAAAA. Despite all of these departures, the Cats will still see plenty of the Greater Atlanta Christian Spartans, and of course our dear friends the Lovett Lions. But with those being the only holdovers from region 6-AA, who will pick up the slack? The answer may surprise you.
With eight spots being vacated, it would appear that the Wildcats will encounter many new foes in region play during the 2012-2013 school year. However, the only new schools joining Westminster in what will become Region 5-AA will be Wesleyan and Hapeville Charter. In that case, there will be five schools in Westminster’s region, which would mean all but one would qualify for the state tournament in basketball and football. As for soccer, tennis and baseball, Hapeville Charter did not field a team in any of those sports in 2011-2012 which means that the other four schools in Region 5-AA would automatically qualify for the state playoffs if this is the case next year. Despite having an easier road to the state playoffs, Westminster will face its share of challenges within this dwarf-sized region.
While many, including myself, see the upside of this newly constructed region, the difficulties in scheduling have not been overlooked by the school’s Athletic Department. In fact, Athletic Director Rusty Hudson explained to me that the biggest priority for next year will be non-regional schedules. Without a large number of games predetermined by region requirements (i.e. every team must play each team in its region/subregion once in football and at least twice in basketball), Wildcat coaches will have a significantly larger say in who their teams compete against. Although this will give coaches an opportunity to determine how difficult the competition will be, the problem arises once the rest of the state begins region play. For example, once region play began, the football team played no one outside the region. The boys’ basketball team has played/will play only two games outside the region, and the girls’ basketball team will play only one. In other words, no team wants to play non-region games once they shift their focus towards the region schedule. Fortunately for us, the GHSA has pledged to help with any scheduling difficulties the soccer, basketball, football, softball, and baseball teams encounter for the 2012-2013 year.
On the other hand, the scheduling predicament offers a unique opportunity for Westminster to play rival teams that they have been unable to compete with since the GHSA began to focus more on the logistics of high school athletics rather than rivalries. Granted the Westminster-Lovett rivalry has thrived under the recent reclassification projects (the game now means more than ever as a result of the regional implications), other rivalries have been lost. For example in football, Westminster played St Pius 24 times over 32 year period (1968-99) and since then they’ve met only twice (2010, 2011). Westminster and Woodward used to have an annual contest as well (39 meetings between 1995-1997), but as a result of tighter scheduling the two teams have only met twice since that period (2008, 2009). Perhaps worst of all, the Marist War Eagles battled the Wildcats once a year and occasionally twice a year on the gridiron, playing 46 times over a 41 year span (1957-1997) and have not met since then! Keep in mind Westminster has only played a total of 24 games against Lovett over the years. I say, bring back the rivalries!
Although the Westminster basketball teams lost two heartbreakers to South Atlanta on Jan. 10, 2012, the Cats came out a winner in the reclassification process. In what will hopefully result in more region championships, more state playoff appearances, and perhaps more rivalry games, the new Region 5-AA will certainly, if nothing else, be a much appreciated change of pace for all of Wildcat nation.