Baker Head Coach Steve Normand
Photo | Mike Kittrell
When the Alabama High School Athletic Association (AHSAA) released its reclassification plan for its seven classes recently, it essentially pushed the start button for football teams to begin fashioning their respective schedules for the next two years.
Perhaps the most noticeable aspect of the new classifications, which will exist for the next two athletic calendars — 2022-23 and 2023-24 — was the fact Class 7A, Region 1, which includes the biggest schools in the Lagniappe coverage area, fell from nine teams to seven and Class 6A and Class 5A increased to nine-team regions.
Football coaches took immediate notice, especially concerning scheduling games. Class 7A went from eight region games and two non-region games a season to six region games and four non-region contests. The opposite was true for Class 6A and Class 5A, which now had eight built-in region games and needed to schedule only two non-region opponents.
Coaches of Class 7A teams have found the process of finding non-region opponents to fill out their schedules “challenging” and “a little tricky” to use the descriptions voiced by some. Trying to find games in the area is the toughest part because Class 6A and Class 5A schools, needing just two non-region games, sometimes avoid playing 7A schools in one of their two non-region games, or the schools have rivalry games that fill one slot and they have located other teams in the area to fill the other slot.
That has left the coaches of some 7A teams burning up the phone lines trying to find games nearby, and not all of them have been successful to date.
“I’m having a lot of trouble getting games,” Baker head coach Steve Normand said. “The problem is taking those two teams out [of 7A] and the others [6A and 5A] being nine-team regions, they only had to find one or two games. It makes their life a little easier, but I’ve got to find four games. In the nine-team regions [in 6A and 5A], a Baldwin County team is going to play a Robertsdale [team] and they have their game and they are good. McGill is playing St. Michael and Montgomery Catholic, so that puts us out [with McGill]. The only game I have scheduled right now is I have Theodore in Week 0, we’re taking Week 8 off, and then I’ve scheduled Dothan. I’m still looking for two games.”
Class 7A consists of Alma Bryant, Baker, Fairhope, Foley, Davidson, Mary G. Montgomery and Daphne. Murphy and Theodore, both 7A previously, dropped to 6A where they join Baldwin County, Blount, McGill-Toolen, Robertsdale, Saraland, Spanish Fort and St. Paul’s, the latter moving up from 5A. Class 5A now features B.C. Rain, Citronelle, Elberta, Faith Academy, Gulf Shores, LeFlore, UMS-Wright, Vigor and Williamson, with Vigor and Williamson having moved up and Citronelle and Gulf Shores having moved down.
“It was definitely a little tricky,” Daphne head coach Kenny King said of scheduling. “We’ve filled our schedule, but it was tough. We had to reach outside — normally we only play 5A, 6A or 7A teams, but to fill one game I had to reach down to 4A to play. We were forced to step out due to having to play so many non-region games.”
Daphne’s non-region opponents will be Spanish Fort, Saraland, Carver-Montgomery and 4A Hillcrest-Evergreen.
“We’re full, but it was definitely a challenge to get games,” Davidson head coach Rick Cauley said. “First off, we want to play as many games as we can. I try to play 11 games [including a practice game to open the season] just because the more chances your kids get to play the better off it is for them — more chances of getting seen [by college recruiters] and more chances to get better.
“Filling the schedule is the No. 1 priority, and No. 2, I guess, is financial considerations. You’ve got to be able to pay your bills … games that make you money and games that won’t cost you a lot of money in travel, so you want to play locally as much as you possibly can.”
Davidson will play Hillcrest-Evergreen, B.C. Rain, Park Crossing in Montgomery and Jackson. The Warriors, who play their home games at Baker, will have six road games this season.
Playing locally helps with financial issues because it eliminates the costs associated with road games. Even home games against opponents from out of town can cut into finances.
“Financially, we’re still crawling our way out of COVID from two years ago,” Normand said. “Last year was a little better but we’re still trying to make up for it and the expenses haven’t lessened, the money you have to spend to keep a program running. … [When you travel out of town] you have to take the whole day off from school, you have to feed the kids lunch on the way up and you’ve got to feed them something on the way back. … The travel has a lot of hidden inadequacies that make it really tough on you as far as doing all that.
“The other thing is when you play teams from Dothan or Wetumpka or Montgomery or Birmingham, they aren’t going to bring that many people [fans] with them, so you lose money at the gate. So you’re going to take a hit as far as that goes.”
“MGM [0-10 last season] is not having a problem. We didn’t have any kind of issues. Everybody wanted to play us,” new MGM head coach Zach Golson said with a laugh. “We’ve got Williamson at home and were provided an opportunity to go play Charles Henderson in Troy’s stadium in Week 2, so we took advantage of that, and our other out-of-region games are at Baldwin County and Robertsdale.”
He said scheduling is a priority and you often lean on relationships to schedule games. That’s what happened for him with the Charles Henderson game. “[Scheduling is] a major priority and sometimes it can be a challenge. It’s gotten to the point where you want to put yourself in a position to be competitive and you want to have a chance to win.”
Fairhope head coach Tim Carter said he’s still looking for a game for the upcoming season.
“We’ve got two games out of Florida; we’re going to play Gulf Breeze and Choctaw County High School,” he said. “I knew it was going to be hard. I was in a seven-team region over at Auburn and found it difficult to complete a schedule. As a matter of fact, I had three nine-game seasons at Auburn High. And we traveled to Sandy Creek, Georgia, and Niceville, Florida, trying to complete a schedule. Whenever you are in a seven-team region it makes it difficult. I don’t think there was any reluctance from people [to play Fairhope], I just think they had an easier time filling their schedules.”
Foley head coach Deric Scott says he, too, still needs one more game to fill out his schedule, describing the task as “not terrible, but challenging.”
Alma Bryant’s Bart Sessions has scheduled Northridge-Tuscaloosa and Holtville and is waiting on phone calls to complete his schedule.
“You have to know this: As a 7A school, a lot of schools aren’t going to want to play you, and the ones who do, you may not want to play. And that’s the bottom line,” he said.
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