Lafayette to drop a classification in next VHSL cycle

Five Peninsula schools, including Lafayette, will drop a classification following a reading of the Virginia High School League’s Average Daily Membership enrollment figures released Friday.

The VHSL will assign schools to state classifications for postseason regional and state tournament play from 2019-23 based on the figures. As a result, five area schools are likely to drop into a smaller enrollment class.

Football power Lafayette will move from Class 4 (1,133-1,528) to Class 3 (738-1,132). That’s fine with Rams football head coach Andy Linn, whose team lost a close Class 4 state semifinal in 2017 to Louisa County, whose ADM is 1,432 students.

“It’s just as tough to win a state championship in Class 3, we lost a state championship game to Magna Vista there (in 2014),” Linn said. “But it is much better for us because we’re down to 1,100 kids.

“That’s not that important during the regular season, I think, because you play in your district and you know what you’ve got. But once you get into the playoffs and you’re playing your King’s Forks and Louisa Counties, and you’re talking to their athletic directors before the game and they’re saying they’ve got (more than 1,400) kids and I’m saying we have 1,100, that’s significant.

“That’s 300 more students and probably 150 of them boys. If 10 percent of them are playing football, that’s 15 football players and you get at least five good ones out of that. That changes things up.”

The changes also include Woodside, the Peninsula area’s largest school, moving from Class 6 (generally 1,965-2,946 students) to Class 5 (1,541-1,947) in the ADM figures dated March 31 and released on Friday. ADM for VHSL purposes is a Department of Education figure of the average number of students in a school from September to March.

Less welcome in the area is the move of Hampton, Menchville and Warwick from Class 5 to Class 4. All three schools have played in the VHSL’s highest or second-highest classification since their inception.

“I think we should stay right where we are,” said Mike Smith, who has guided Hampton to 12 football state championships. “It’s not that it (Class 5) is a higher level of football (than Class 4), but it’s what we’ve been settled into.”

But staying up in a higher classification, even for a school like Menchville – whose ADM of 1,528 will make it the largest Class 4 school beginning in 2019-20 – does not appear to be an option. VHSL associate director Tom Dolan said that a school is unlikely to win an appeal challenging its classification except for “beyond extraordinary” circumstances because ADM figures come from the Department of Education.

“There is nothing that allows a school to stay up, anymore,” Dolan said. “They could appeal, but they would have to make the case that they did not present the right numbers, which doesn’t make any sense because the superintendents are attempting to get as much federal money (via enrollment) as possible so there’s not usually a low number.

“Frankly the days of playing up went away legislatively. In our handbook it says you have to play in the classification you’re designated for, so currently there’s no situation that’s going to allow somebody to ask to play up.”

That’s what Menchville athletic director Greg Henderson and Warwick athletic director Jenny Nuttycombe would’ve preferred. Henderson was hoping to continue building on rivalries with Region 5A opponents like Bethel, Hickory and Maury, a sentiment Nuttycombe echoed.

Barring that, Nuttycombe said, “We’re going to continue to compete as hard as we can against whoever we see across from us on any court or field.”

VHSL Classifications for Peninsula-area public schools beginning in 2019-20

Class 5: Bethel, Gloucester, Kecoughtan, Woodside.

Class 4: Denbigh, Grafton, Hampton, Heritage, Jamestown, Menchville, Smithfield, Warhill, Warwick.

Class 3: Lafayette, New Kent, Phoebus, Tabb, York.

Class 2: Bruton, Poquoson.

* Schools in italics dropped a classification.

O’Brien can be reached by phone at 757-247-4963.

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