Tuesday, May 03, 2011

SPORTS >> 5A status likely at Jacksonville

Leader sportswriter

Jacksonville High School has been targeted for a move from 6A to 5A in the round of reclassification set to begin in 2012.

The Arkansas Activities Association last week released its revised list of the reclassification cycle for the 2012-14 school years. Classifications are based on student population.

Jacksonville, which currently plays in the 6A-East Conference in all sports, stands as the only local program to potentially be affected. Jacksonville has been close to the cutoff between 5A and 6A for the last two cycles along with 6A members Marion and Searcy.

But Marion’s student population has grown to 994, 23rd highest in the state, placing it in the middle of 6A pack, while Searcy has grown enough to maintain its 6A status with 851 students.

Jacksonville’s enrollment has shrunk to 805.

“I was a little shocked,” Jacksonville athletic director Jerry Wilson said of the proposed reclassification, which has not been finalized. “We’ve always been close with Searcy and some of the other schools, and I knew we had lost some students. Hall and McClellan, of course, they’ve been up and down.

“We feel like we can compete regardless of what classification we end up in. It’s basically a numbers game right now.”

The Arkansas Activities Association will meet in June to determine conference lineups and final classification alignments. If class 6A is expanded to 32 teams instead of its current 16, and 7A stays at its current 16, it will put Jacksonville High School in the middle of the pack.

“It’s pretty hard to say right now,” Wilson said. “We don’t know the magnitude of the conference alignments just yet. If they go 16 and then 32, we’ll go back to 6A. It’s something we don’t really have a lot of control over at this standpoint.”

The growth of Greenwood High School has also been a factor. The school in the western part of the state now has 831 students, putting it ahead of Jacksonville by more than 25 students.

Other schools already in 6A, like Lake Hamilton, Sheridan and Little Rock Parkview have also increased their numbers to assure them a spot in 6A regardless of whether the classification expands to 32 schools or remains at 16.

“We kind of like being in the6A, but if you look at the other county schools, most of them are 5A,” Wilson said, referring to Mills University Studies, Sylvan Hills and North Pulaski. “So it’s not like it will make us any bigger or better.

“We’ve competed in football and basketball, and in baseball, we won the conference championship.”

Jacksonville was a 6A playoff team in football last season while the basketball team tied Parkview for the conference championship and went on to play the Patriots in the state final in March.

The possibility of Jacksonville landing in the same 5A conference with Mills, Sylvan Hills and North Pulaski could add to the rivalries among the Pulaski County Special School District programs, but Wilson’s eye is on how the change could affect travel expenses.

Jacksonville teams travel extensively in the 6A-East Conference with trips to Mountain Home, Jonesboro and West Memphis. A more local conference setup could save the athletic department money.

“It may be time for a change, who knows?” Wilson said. “It’s out of our hands, but we’ll try to make the best of it either way. We’ll just have to wait and see how it turns out when they vote in June.”

Other local schools will remain in their current classifications, including 7A-Central member Cabot, which stays near the top of the state’s enrollment numbers at 2,199, the third highest in the state behind Bentonville and North Little Rock high schools.

Beebe High School, of the 5A, is ranked 44th with 710 students, 5A member North Pulaski ranks 47th with 662 students and 5A member Sylvan Hills is 49th with 651 students.

Lonoke remains in the middle of Class 4A numbers with 418 students. Riverview has climbed to the top of Class 3A at 289, which is two students behind Bald Knob and West Fork Schools at the top of the classification, and only five fewer than Fountain Lake High School, the smallest of the public schools that could move up to 4A during the new cycle.

The 1.75 multiplier for private schools will keep Harding Academy near the bottom of Class 3A at 169 students, just behind Shiloh Christian and Episcopal Collegiate, while Abundant Life still sits in the middle of Class 2A with 97 students.