Schools in the Virginia High School League will undergo one of the most radical realignments in the VHSL's century-old history this fall. The premise was to group high schools by enrollment size for postseason play.
It also means district tournaments and trophies, and all-district teams are done. The Eastern Region (postseason home of the Peninsula District) and Region I (postseason home of the Bay Rivers District) no longer exist.
In their place are groups of like-sized schools called conferences, which exist as the first level of post-season playoffs. The VHSL ranks schools by enrollment, then splits them into roughly equal sixths.
The largest schools are in Group 6A, the smallest in Group 1A, and unlike the past where schools could opt to play in a higher classification, they now must compete for postseason honors in the group their enrollment dictates.
So from the Peninsula District, Bethel, Woodside and Kecoughtan are in Group 6A; Gloucester, Hampton, Menchville and Warwick are 5A; and Denbigh, Heritage and Phoebus are 4A.
From the Bay Rivers District, Grafton, Jamestown, Smithfield and Tabb are 4A Lafayette, New Kent, Poquoson, Warhill and York are 3A; and Bruton is in Class 2A.
The result of the realignment meant athletic directors had to work quickly to figure out scheduling and travel challenges and budgets in a matter of months.
It is complicated. So Daily Press reporters Lynn Burke, Dave Johnson and Marty O'Brien sat down with five ADs representing Peninsula and Bay Rivers district schools to discuss how the realignment came to pass and what they needed to do to make it work in time for the school year.
Gathered in a Daily Press conference room for nearly 90 minutes, we talked to Lafayette's Dan Barner, Poquoson's Ken Bennett, Kecoughtan's Lee Martin, Heritage's Dwayne Peters and Woodside's Todd Price.
Below are the results of the conversation, edited for length and organized by subject.
Daily Press: Show of hands. How many of you would've liked to keep districts and had seeding into the regionals without this new beast called "conferences."
All five athletic directors indicated they would've liked to keep districts and district tournaments (which no longer exist) and eliminate conferences. The realignment means teams will have to travel farther to play.
Price: Just think of the rivalries were going to lose. District tournaments, I mean we'd sell out. The Kecoughtan-Hampton, the game going into the tournament, was the most we had for the entire tournament. And now, we're not even going to have that. Kecoughtan and Hampton are never going meet in the playoffs or district tournament. That whole thing is going. You're going to lose revenue and you're going to lose rivalries. Hopefully you can generate some new rivalries but who knows if that's going to happen with the distances traveled.
DP: Is realignment and having schools of strictly similar sizes play each other in state tournaments a good thing?
Barner: Yeah, I think it's a good thing, but I think it was that way before, except for schools like Phoebus and Bruton that choose to play up. That was their choice. It was (similar) schools before.
Peters: I agree. I think it was pretty well set. It's like the old saying goes, "If it's not broke, why try to fix it?" They could've tweaked and made little adjustments here and there, but I didn't see anything wrong with the way the system was before.
DP: Why do you think the system was changed?
Peters: I think it had to do with money and some of the smaller schools in the western part of the state were feeling they weren't getting a fair shot at state championships. When they did the voting, there are 314 public schools, and in AAA (largest schools) 95 percent of them voted against this and there are 90-something AAA schools, so we're always going to get outvoted.
Barner: Single A, we knew, was all for it. The Bay Rivers voted against it, and until they took the vote we didn't know which way the vote was going. Then it wasn't even close.