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January 22, 2014

PREP SPORTS: AHSAA approves seven-class system; Cullman, Fairview, Good Hope, Addison all moving up

MONTGOMERY — The Alabama High School Athletic Association's Central Board of Control has voted to expand the current six-class system for member schools, adding a seventh class for the largest high schools.

The motion passed unanimously at the board's meeting Wednesday morning at AHSAA headquarters in suburban Montgomery.

The biennial reclassification has significant impacts on several local teams. The big news comes for Cullman High, which jumps from 5A to 6A. They will be in the bottom third of the class, in terms of student enrollment.

West Point stays in place in 5A, the fourth-smallest school in the class and one notch lower than Fairview, which rises to 5A from 4A.

Good Hope is also moving back up from 3A to 4A. Hanceville, Holly Pond and Vinemont hold their places in 3A.

Addison returns to 2A from 1A, while St. Bernard remains in 1A.

If Cullman thought 5A, Region 8 was tough, its new home in 6A, Region 8 is flat-out terrifying.

Hartselle, Athens and Muscle Shoals are still on the Bearcats’ required football schedule, but now, so are 6A holdovers Florence, Austin and Decatur.

Hartselle, Athens, Florence and 5A runner-up Muscle Shoals combined for a 39-13 record this past fall. Decatur (5-6) and Austin (4-6) weren’t nearly as intimidating at 9-12.

The Black and Gold are coming off an 8-4 season that included an eighth straight first-round victory.

Cullman’s basketball teams are now grouped with Austin and Decatur, while the baseball squad is in a three-team area with Arab and Brewer.

Attempts to reach Bearcat athletic director Tim Loveless and football coach Mark Britton were unsuccessful by publication of this story.

Principal and athletic director Chris Gambrill said he’s excited about Fairview making its first foray into the 5A landscape. Considering the Aggies’ ever-increasing enrollment, he wasn’t entirely blindsided by the bump up in classes.

According to the AHSAA’s numbers, the Purple and Gold snagged the title of biggest county school from West Point — but not by much. Fairview came in at 381.35, less than two students more than the Warriors’ 379.65.

“Our numbers are going up anyway, so this was inevitable,” Gambrill said. “It’s one of those deals where we might as well do it now, embrace it and let’s go on.”

This won’t be Good Hope’s first rodeo in the 4A sports scene, where the Raiders spent the 2010-11 and 2011-12 school years.

During that span, the football program was a bit over its head with so many perennial contenders in its region, leading to back-to-back 1-9 campaigns. Because of the addition of a seventh class, however, the Red and White are in a much more manageable position this time around, joining Oneonta, North Jackson, DAR, J.B. Pennington, Priceville and Westminster Christian in Region 7.

Other than travel — North Jackson is an hour and a half northeast — athletic director Alan Dunkling said Good Hope is embracing its move back up the ranks.

“You take the positive you can find in it and hope it can outweigh the negative,” he said. “Mentally, I think we’re a little more prepared for the change.”

Like the Raiders, Addison has paid its dues in the class its coming into. The Bulldogs have spent 26 total years at the level dating back to 1967.

They were 10-2 and 9-3 with matching second-round trips to the prep football playoffs in 2006 and 2007, the first two years of their last four-year stint in 2A.

On the gridiron, Addison will now be grouped with Cold Springs, Tanner, Falkville, Southeastern, Sumiton Christian and Tarrant. On the basketball court, the Dawgs match up with Cold Springs, Tanner and Falkville.

Tanner is 2A’s two-time defending football champion and a threat to pile on state titles in several sports.

“Football is going to be tough. Basketball is going to be extremely tough,” Addison athletic director Micah Smothers said. “Tanner and Cold Springs are historically good. We usually hold our own in football. I like the way they have our region set up. We get to play some rival teams, and the travel isn’t too bad, either.”

It’s hard to imagine the Bulldogs’ volleyball squad will mind the advancement too much. One of the school’s six state volleyball championships since 2003 was added to the program’s trophy case during its most recent stretch in 2A. The team was also runners-up twice during the span.

“Everyone has some apprehensive excitement,” Smothers said. “The athletes and students are always ready for new challenges, and that’s what this is. It’s going to be a little bit tougher all around.”

Hanceville, Holly Pond and Vinemont came away from the shuffling completely unscathed. The trio remained in 3A and are in the same area or region for nearly every sport, making a majority of their travel plans a piece of cake.

While West Point would’ve welcomed a step down to 4A, it’s not all doom and gloom for the Warriors in the reconfigured 5A.

The Warriors will duke it out with Russellville, East Limestone, Columbia, Ardmore, J.O. Johnson, Lawrence County and Pope John Paul II in Region 8 for football. Area 14 for basketball will consist of Fairview, Lawrence County and Russellville.

See below for each local schools’ complete realignment in every sport.

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