Friday, August 10, 2012

SPORTS STORY >> Old rivals will soon face off yet again

Leader sports editor

The latest round of reclassifications gave us several minor tweaks to the athletic conference, as it usually does. This year it also gave us a brand new conference, the 5A Central. For most of the past 20 years, the 5A classification has consisted of West, East, Southeast and Southwest Conferences. Gone now are the last two and replacing them are the South and Central conferences. Three Leader newspaper area teams are in the new 5A Central, and four should be.

Jacksonville, North Pulaski and Sylvan Hills are once again conference mates. They were all part of the old 4A East before classifications were added. North Pulaski dropped first, then Sylvan Hills, and now Jacksonville leaves the old 6A East to join the 5A Central and renew some old rivalries.

The inner-city rivalry between Jacksonville and North Pulaski resumes after a six-year hiatus. Jacksonville has dominated the series since its inception, and it should have the advantage this year, but the Falcon program is on the rise under second-year coach Teodis Ingram. North Pulaski won’t be an easy out this season.

Jacksonville and Sylvan Hills were always great games that usually came down to the final minutes. Jacksonville and Sylvan Hills were always great games that usually came down to the final minutes. The only game in recent memory that was decided early was in 2005 when the Red Devil defense was led by Clinton McDonald, who is now with the Seattle Seahawks. That game ended 36-12. The Bears went for it on fourth and long from inside their own 15-yard line while only trailing 15-6 early in the third quarter. They didn’t make the first down. Jacksonville scored soon after and the rout was on.

Even better than the football rivalry between those three schools were the games inside the gymnasiums. Sylvan Hills and North Pulaski has continued its rivalry as members of the 5A Southeast the past few seasons, but a showdown between Jacksonville and Sylvan Hills has eluded fans for the past few seasons, when both teams had arguably their best squads ever.

Basketball is big in central Arkansas, especially Pulaski County, so expect big crowds and exciting games when these two teams meet up again with league supremacy on the line.

Also joining the conference is state powerhouse Pulaski Academy and another west Little Rock private school Little Rock Christian Academy. Mills and McClellan round out the new league.

Beebe somehow managed to finagle its way out of the Central conference and remain in the 5A East, citing a desire to maintain rivalries among a few other dubious reasons. That meant that Helena-West Helena Central goes to the Central conference with seven schools from Pulaski County.

Now picture an Arkansas state map and notice Beebe just on the southwest tip of White County, 20 miles from Pulaski County. Now try to picture Helena, Arkansas.

If you don’t know where it is, here’s a way to remember. If you step one foot east of Helena, you’ll likely drown in the Mississippi River. But the Arkansas Activities Association, including director Lance Taylor, thought it more logical when drawing up the new conference to put Helena in Central and Beebe in the East.

Appeals are heard every two years by teams unhappy with their placements and Helena seemed to have the most open-and-shut appeal in the history of appeals. But alas, their appeal was denied. A fact even more startling when considering that a vast majority of other appeals were granted this year. Even Catholic High won its appeal to be taken out of the 7A East and put back in the 7A Central. Their grounds? Little Rock Central is four miles further east than Catholic High.

So the AAA determined that a four-mile discrepancy was worth reconsidering for the largest city’s largest private school, but a 120-mile slap in the face to the impoverished, struggling school district in rural far-east Arkansas needed no correction.

But there’s still the very positive renewal of all the old nearby rivals. It’s just a shame Beebe couldn’t see the logic in becoming one of those rivals.