Friday, August 04, 2017

SPORTS STORY >> Titans take on big boys

By RAY BENTON Leader sports editor

It’s a given that when a team is forced to play in a division larger than its actual enrollment, there will be numbers discrepancies on the rosters as well. That’s the situation the Jacksonville Titans are facing this season as they prepare for their second of four years in the 6A-East, even though the school’s enrollment falls within the 5A classification.

Five of Jacksonville’s conference opponents boast a roster more than 50 percent larger than Jacksonville’s, including two that more than doubles the Titans’ team numbers and another that almost doubles it.

In the first week of practice, Jacksonville has worked out with about 40 players each day. Meanwhile, West Memphis, Jacksonville’s week 8 opponent, starts the season with 97. That’s about 120 percent more players.

Jonesboro comes in just below 90 with 86, which is an advantage of more than 90 percent. Pine Bluff’s preseason roster has 67 players listed. A call to Marion reveals a team of about 65, while Searcy’s preseason MaxPreps roster shows 64, but observations and team camps appear even higher.

Mountain Home’s roster online is comparable to Jacksonville’s, showing just 37 players. No information could be obtained from Little Rock Hall, the final 6A-East team.

Jacksonville, Mountain Home and Hall played close competitive games last year, with Jacksonville beat Hall 20-18 and losing 34-27 at Mountain Home. The Bombers picked up steam late in the season after getting blown out by Jonesboro, Pine Bluff and Marion. They managed to beat Hall, Searcy and West Memphis in the final three weeks of the season. But that team had a few more players last year, 49.

The situation Jacksonville is in is due to the creation of the new Jacksonville-North Pulaski School District. The Arkansas High School Activities Association ruled that the elimination of North Pulaski High School constituted a merger between it and Jacksonville, and so counted 100 percent of North Pulaski’s final grades 9-11 enrollment as part of Jacksonville’s enrollment for classification purposes.

Jacksonville appealed that ruling during the reclassification process that began the current cycle, citing a study of households within the new district’s boundaries that showed only 43 percent of students enrolled at NPHS would be attending JNPSD.

But the actual numbers are worse than that. Only 17 percent of students who were enrolled at North Pulaski in its last year of existence ended up attending Jacksonville High School.

But still, the AHSAA continued to count 100 percent of North Pulaski students against Jacksonville for purposes of reclassification on its system of a three-year average.

“All I wanted was for us to be dealing with the real numbers,” said Jacksonville football coach Barry Hickingbotham. “We didn’t really have any definite figures we could show them when we appealed the first time. We only had that study that projected 40 percent. Now we have the actual numbers at 17 percent, but we’re still counting 100 percent.”

Because of the way the classifications were restructured for non-football sports in the new cycle, the way the AHSAA counted the NP numbers will only affect football.

Counting 100 percent of former NP students in the three-year average gave Jacksonville an operating number of 912 by the AHSAA. For football, that makes it the 31st largest district in the state, or the second smallest district in Class 6A.

The smallest 6A school is Greenwood with 893 students in grades 9-11, but only counting the actual 17 percent of NP students for Jacksonville, instead of the figurative and fictional 100 percent used by activities association, would drop Jacksonville well below the 5A threshold of 857.

The NP numbers won’t stop counting against Jacksonville until reclassification for the 2020-2022 cycle.