Local coaches weigh in on AHSAA reclassification

Calera High, which will move up to Class 5A from 4A, is one of seven county schools that will move up in classification.

Calera High, which will move up to Class 5A from 4A, is one of seven county schools that will move up in classification. Head coach Wiley McKeller expressed some concern over travelling to face new opponents, but felt his squad was up for the challenge. (File)

By DREW GRANTHUM/Sports Writer

With the Jan. 22 announcement from the Alabama High School Athletic Association that there will be reclassification of schools to accommodate the new Class 7A — reserved for the member schools in the state with the highest enrollment — all but three Shelby County schools will be reclassified.

Three county schools (Thompson, Oak Mountain and Spain Park) will move into the new class, and will face the likes of Hoover, Mountain Brook and Vestavia Hills in Region 3.

While the task of competing is daunting, Oak Mountain head coach Cris Bell said his players were looking forward to it.

“We’ve got a challenging region,” he said. “I think we’re looking forward to getting back to (a few) neighborhood rivalries.”

Bell also said he expected the new class long before it was announced.

“It’s not a surprise,” he said. “It was just a matter of time. I think from (the perspective) of our fans, it’s great.”

Bell also cited not having to travel to the Montgomery schools as a plus.

“Tuscaloosa County will be our farthest trip,” he said. “From a gate (money) perspective, it’ll be great for us and our community.”

Chelsea head coach Chris Elmore echoed Bell’s sentiment, as his Hornets have battled being one of the smallest schools in 6A competition for the last two seasons.

The realignment places Chelsea as one of the bigger 6A schools.

“We’re obviously excited about the forming of the 7A class because it puts us at the top of 6A (in terms of enrollment),” he said. “It puts you on a little more even playing ground. Our guys have had a really good attitude in the offseason. I think the biggest part for us is the newness of it.”

Shelby County High coach Brent Smith said that while the Wildcats didn’t move in terms of class, the competition didn’t get any easier. Shelby County will now have to face Tallassee, Beauregard and Clay County-Central.

“I think we got put in a tough region,” he said.

In addition to the high level of competition, Smith said the amount of travel could take a toll on his team.

“It’s going to affect us,” he said. “It’ll affect gate money, too (in terms of) our people going and their people coming. That concerns me a little. When you travel that far, it disrupts (the) day and changes your routine.”

The travel also allows a team to take on a mindset similar to that of a playoff game, Smith said.

The Calera Eagles will move from Class 4A to 5A, but head coach Wiley McKeller said that little will change in terms of his team’s attitude toward the game.

“Ultimately, it’s about us being able to prepare,” he said. “There’ll be some travel, but we’ll be alright.”

That said, McKeller acknowledged the difficulties of long road trips during the season. Calera’s farthest opponent, Sumter Central in Livingston, is 119 miles away.

“There’s a lot of planning and budget that goes into it,” he said. “Gas and mileage become part of it. These road trips are tough. It’s an obstacle.”

Vincent’s Jason Hill agreed. While the Yellow Jackets stay in Class 2A, they will face a completely new set of opponents in their region. The closest opponent to Vincent is Fayetteville, 21 miles away, with the farthest being Pickens County High, 113 miles away.

“Our travel is going to be astronomical,” he said. “I’m kind of disappointed to have so much money invested in travel, but I understand the (AHSAA)’s trying to make things as equal as possible.”

Despite the travel, Hill thought the reclassification was needed.

“I think the (creation) of the 7A class is a good thing,” he said. “Sometimes the (difference in enrollment between 6A schools) was 1,000 kids. I think it equalizes the playing field across the state.”

Still, not every coach was enthused to the change. Montevallo head coach Andrew Zow said the move from 3A to 4A didn’t do the Bulldogs any favors.

“It really affects us,” he said. “We move (from) the middle of 3A (in terms of enrollment) to the bottom of 4A. Number wise, I didn’t like it, but we’ll go play football.”

Zow said his squad was low on numbers, and playing even bigger schools than what the Dawgs faced in 2013 could hurt a team already struggling to find depth.

“Right now, I have 11 guys working out that are not playing basketball,” he said. “We’ll be sitting at 25-30 (players on the roster) at 4A. I’d rather be more evenly matched, but we’ll still battle and believe.”

Indian Springs and Westminster-Oak Mountain, members of the AHSAA that do not participate in football, will remain in Class 3A and 1A, respectively.

As of 5:15 p.m. on Jan. 22, calls placed to coaches at Briarwood Christian, Thompson, Spain Park and Pelham were not returned. Check back with Shelbycountyreporter.com for more details.