Tommy Mattocks: Conferences, realignment, who plays who

Tommy Mattocks: Conferences, realignment, who plays who

Did you ever wonder why or how Kinston, North Lenoir, South Lenoir and Greene Central are all in the same conference? It has not always been that way. Let’s start with how conferences are made up, but first we have to understand some basics.

All schools in the North Carolina High School Athletic Association (NCHSAA) used to be divided into four equal groups based on their enrollment figures. Just for figuring purposes, lets say there are 400 schools in North Carolina. The NCHSAA would take the largest 25 percent or 100 schools and call them the 4A Classification schools. 

Then they would take the next largest 25 percent or next 100 schools and call them the 3A Classification. Same thing happens in a 2A Classification and a 1A Classification. You would never want Manteo and Murphy in the same conference so the teams are split into East and West. Now we already see a huge savings in travel just by that one division.

Let’s study just one classification, we will do the 2A size since that is what our local conference is. The NCHSAA has a huge map of North Carolina in its office. It is full of colored pins that show where every school in North Carolina is located. The blue pins might be all the 4A schools. The yellow pins might be the locations of each 2A school. 

If all these yellow pins were located in one or two counties, the conferences could almost make themselves up. But in most cases, there might be four yellow pins in two counties and then the next closest yellow pins are 60 miles away, as is the case in our Eastern Carolina 2A conference.

Here we have South Lenoir, Kinston, North Lenoir, Greene Central and Ayden Grifton all within 30 miles of each other. Hence those schools are a natural fit to be in the same conference since they are all the same 2A size. But you need more than four schools to make up a conference so where do we get the other two or three? 

Looking at the map of yellow pins showing 2A size schools, the NCHSAA could see that West Craven and Washington were basically sitting there by themselves and needed a conference to join. If they tried to put them in with the 2A schools in the Wilson or Rocky Mount area, it would have been too long a drive, so the best fit was to put Washington and West Craven in with the Lenoir County schools.

This classification process seems easy and simple until you consider some schools gain in population and some schools drop in enrollment; therefore the NCHSAA has to “realign” the schools every four years to ensure that similar schools of the same size are playing each other in conferences for the benefit of fair play. Because of this growth or lack of, some conference teams change every four years.

Remember, this last realignment, Goldsboro was in the conference with Kinston, North Lenoir, South Lenoir, Greene Central and Ayden Grifton, making a six-team conference. When Washington and West Craven came in for this period, Goldsboro went with another group that includes James Kenan, East Duplin and Wallace.

Back to my original question at the top of the page: How did Kinston, North Lenoir and South Lenoir wind up in the same conference? Basically, this is the first time in the history of the schools that they have all three been the same size in enrollment and put into the same classification. In the past, Kinston has been as high as 4A size and when Kinston dropped all the way down to 2A size, North Lenoir was a 3A size school at times. Same size in the same county makes a lot of sense in sports.

I will leave you with this: conference realignments are not fun and making up the conferences sometimes gets real bitter. A school develops friends, loyalties and admiration for the athletic directors and coaches in a conference over time and then in four years, they might have to change to a group of schools they have never dealt with such as West Craven coming in with the Lenoir County schools.  That is not always easy, but it must be done to ensure fair play in the long run.     

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