Deon Cranford

Deon Cranford

ROCKINGHAM – Each summer, football fans across Richmond County begin to familiarize themselves with the players that they expect to be donning the kelly green and gold in August. 

Who is healthy?  Who is going to fill spots left by last year's seniors?  Who has performed well during the offseason? 

Once all of those questions are answered, Raider fans begin to look at scheduled and potential opponents.  However, due to Richmond Senior High School’s location and size, the North Carolina High School Athletic Association’s (NCHSAA) realignment and post-season processes can leave Raider Nation scratching its head as to who it needs to be paying attention to.

Post-Season (East vs. West)

Every fall, as North Carolina high school football programs enter the final weeks of the regular season, fans and media outlets all across the state begin to predict what the NCHSAA postseason brackets will look like. 

Prognosticators must consider records, conference standings, the current tiebreaker rules, the average daily memberships (ADM) of each school and geography. Geography tends to be the biggest headache, and nobody understands that more than the longtime fans of the Raiders.

Richmond has competed in the eastern bracket as well as the western bracket.  The Raiders have won state titles as the eastern representative and the western representative.  In the playoffs, they have battled the Cardinals of Jacksonville High School located near the North Carolina coast, as well as the Rockets of AC Reynolds High School who call the Blue Ridge Mountains home. 

Realignment

However, it's not just the playoffs that are affected by Richmond's GPS location.  Geography has also affected conference realignments in the past. 

As a result of the NCHSAA's efforts to keep conference opponents similar in size but within reasonable driving distance of one another, we have seen the Raiders play in the Mid-South Conference (primarily Cumberland County schools), multiple variations of the Southeastern Conference (Moore, Scotland, Hoke, Lee, Anson, and Robeson County participants), as well as the Mid-Southeastern and the current Sandhills Athletic conferences that were formed by bringing together teams from Southeastern and Mid-South schools.

Every four years, the NCHSAA realigns the state high school conferences.  Although the coronavirus has halted the planned meetings regarding the 2021-22 realignment, pre-pandemic discussions about expanding the classifications and using variables outside of ADM to determine conference placement have many fans, coaches, and administrators curious as to whom they will see appearing on their schedules from 2021 to 2025.  All variables could create some interesting scenarios for Richmond.

Richmond's central location as well as the fluctuating ADMs among current Sandhills Athletic Conference (SAC) teams will make it more difficult for the Raiders to find conference opponents of a similar size. 

For example, Scotland High School has seen a steady drop in its ADM since 2006.  Over the last 14 years, its school population has decreased by nearly 500 students.  Based on the ADM and the current classification model, Scotland should be a 3A school in 2021.  In fact, in the 2019 football playoffs, there were 17 schools in the 3AA bracket that were larger than Scotland – which competed as a 4A school.

Scotland is not the only SAC team that would be affected.  Seventy-First and Purnell Swett high schools would also qualify for a drop in classification – based on the 2019-20 numbers.  Raider fans have seen this before with Anson County.  The Bearcats were once part of the Southeastern 4A conference with Richmond, but a rapid ADM drop at Anson ended any hopes of the two remaining conference foes after 2000-01. 

Many think that this cannot happen with Richmond and Scotland, but the Raiders and Scots have not always been in the same conference, so a split is not outside the realm of possibility.

The possibility of 5A and 6A formats have been suggested, but there is an 803 student difference between the Sandhills Athletic Conference's largest school, Hoke County (2312), and its smallest school, Scotland (1509). 

Expanding the classifications would reduce the ADM gap between the largest and smallest schools in each classification making it impossible for the SAC's roster of schools to remain intact following the realignment.  Additional classifications would also separate the Raiders and the Scots unless a split conference is formed.

Simmons Proposal

It is important to note that the proposed amendment to the NCHSAA bylaws that would have expanded the classifications from 4A to 5A (or 6A) failed to receive enough votes from the member schools earlier this year.  However, this decision has just allowed those desiring additional classifications to get creative.

The NCHSAA currently uses a 20-30-30-20 model to assign schools to each classification.  This means that the 4A classification is comprised of the largest 20 percent of schools in the state based on ADM. 

The smallest 20 percent of schools were placed in the 1A classification and the remaining 60 percent of schools were split evenly between 2A and 3A based on size.  A recent proposal by sports rating guru Brian Simmons inverted that format to create the illusion of six classifications (at least for post-season purposes).

On his website simmonsratings.com, Simmons created a 30-20-20-30 system that would give 4A and 1A a larger percentage of the schools but would subdivide only those classifications for playoff purposes.  This means that you would have six state champions (4AA, 4A, 3A, 2A, 1AA, and 1A) instead of the current eight. And the six state championship brackets would each consist of 32 schools (erasing the first-round byes currently occurring in 4AA, 4A, 1AA, and 1A playoffs).

Using this model, many of the schools that dropped to 3A during the previous realignment would return to the 4A classification.  Many schools, like Scotland, that are likely to move down to 3A using the current model would also remain in the 4A classification. 

Simmons' proposal would keep Richmond, Hoke, Pinecrest, Purnell Swett and Scotland together.  Those six would be joined by old conference rival Lee County and first-time conference opponent Union Pines.

There is one hiccup.  Using 2019's ADM numbers, Hoke (the largest school in the proposed conference) and Union Pines (the smallest school) are separated by a difference of nearly 1,000 students.  This is extremely noticeable in football as the Vikings are not very competitive in 3A and would likely struggle against their new larger conference opponents.  However, in other sports like volleyball, soccer and tennis, the Vikings already have a history of easily holding their own against the larger schools.

It's also important to note that two Mecklenburg County conferences would have a 2,000 student gap between the largest and smallest teams in each conference. 

Other Options

NCHSAA commissioner Que Tucker has said that the realignment committee may look at data other than just ADM for the upcoming conference realignment.  Wells Fargo Cup points (used to measure the success of a school's athletic program as a whole), as well as the number of free lunch recipients, are examples of some of the data that may be taken into consideration when building conferences.

Developing a system that allows the quality of a program to trump quantity of students does have its merits.  Shelby High School, a 2A school, has acquired numerous football championships and it often challenges higher classification schools along the way. 

On the other hand, 4A Garinger High School (Charlotte), has only won six games in the last nine years.  ADM alone may not have placed either of these schools where they needed to be.

Looking at the SAC, this could potentially allow Scotland to remain a 4A school despite not having the numbers, while also allowing the struggling football programs at Purnell Swett and Lumberton to join their smaller Robeson County counterparts in a conference. 

Then again, Purnell Swett has done well on the baseball and softball diamonds while Lumberton was just named the 4A co-champion in boys' basketball, so that success could make their gridiron struggles a moot point.

Regardless of the format chosen, the conference landscape (at least from Richmond's point of view) will likely include some unfamiliar opponents in 2021.  While the playoff process often moves Richmond east and west, it’s likely that the next realignment may push Richmond north. 

Unless a split conference is created, or there are some extreme changes to the classification model, it will be nearly impossible for the Sandhills Athletic Conference or the recurring Southeastern Conference to exist as we know them after the 2020-21 school year ends. 

LAUREL HILL – “Play ball!” – two words that players, coaches and fans of baseball and softball have been anxiously waiting to hear for months. 

LAUREL HILL – At the end of Second Avenue in Laurel Hill, you’ll find the Lions Park baseball and softball fields surrounded by trees.

ROCKINGHAM – The official end to the 2019 football season in North Carolina is less than two weeks away, and with it, athletes from eight schools will earn state championship bragging rights and memories that will last a lifetime.  

ROCKINGHAM – Milestones and breaking records are always a fun way for teams and individual players to challenge themselves. 

ROCKINGHAM – Richmond Senior High School’s football sesaon opener against Clayton High School will not only give fans their first real look at the 2019 Richmond Raiders, but the evening will also showcase the talent of over 100 area cheerleaders.

ROCKINGHAM — On Saturday, more than 100 athletes hailing from six counties across North and South Carolina braved the mid-90 degree heat to participate in the fifth annual HWY 55 Burgers, Shakes and Fries three-on-three soccer tournament. 

Wednesday, 24 July 2019 17:36

Carolina Titans are back in action

LAUREL HILL — The Carolina Titans softball program has been able to return to the diamond the past couple of weeks after rain caused them to miss out on some opportunities.  

ROCKINGHAM — With the high school football season kicking off less than a month from now, many in Raider Nation are getting excited, and for good reason. 

SPARTANBURG, S.C. – Even though the class of 2019 has yet to turn its tassels, fall sports are already getting underway at Richmond Senior High School.  For two area volleyball players, it never really ended.

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