In the next several weeks, athletics directors are likely to get their hands on the much-discussed five-class realignment proposals that will take effect starting a year from now.
It will be the next step in the largest such shift in South Carolina High School League history. Amid all the guesswork and finger-crossing, though, Carolina Forest and Athletics Director Tripp Satterwhite may have the most on the line.
The school’s enrollment figures give it a sizable advantage over any other local school. So Carolina Forest already knew it was a possibility it may be the lone Class AAAAA program in Horry County.
Numbers officially released by the SCHSL recently make the situation look even less enviable.
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“We’re in a unique position where we’re so large and so isolated, we’re going to be [in the largest class] no matter what way they go,” Satterwhite said Monday. “I don’t think it’s any time to hit the panic button. I’ve kind of got what in my mind will happen. There’s no sense me getting worked up until we know.”
Carolina Forest, according to the figures published on the SCHSL site, is now the seventh-largest high school in the state with an average daily membership of 2,239 students. Socastee (1,619 students) was 41st, with Conway just behind with 1,618.
The other teams in Carolina Forest’s current Region VI-AAAA are Sumter (fifth, 2,310), West Florence (24th, 1,796) and South Florence (39th, 1,628). That broad range means it’s unlikely the Panthers’ region can remain even anything close to intact if unbalanced classes are ultimately how the SCHSL approaches the next realignment.
Among the 30 largest schools in South Carolina, less than half are in traditional Lower State regions. On top of that, those big Lower State schools are also predominantly in and around the Columbia and Charleston areas, with seven being in the latter.
There are really only two ways Carolina Forest escapes heavy travel. The first is if the SCHSL utilizes regions split between different classes. The other is if the High School League decides to stick with balanced classes. With approximately 42 schools in each of the five classes, the current Region VI-AAAA could remain the same.
The problem there, though, is that the biggest school in the state, Wando, would be in the same class as Conway, despite having an enrollment two-and-a-half times larger. That’s exactly why the addition of a fifth class was instituted in the first place.
“I could see some scenarios where they keep us with the top 42,” Socastee Athletics Director Tim Renfrow said. “That sort of defeats the purpose of having AAAAA. But I don’t know what the High School League is going to do. I’m sort of hoping they take the top 30 [for Class AAAAA].”
Renfrow’s school was adequately prepared for its jump up a class last year when the Braves moved into Region VI-AAAA. What may happen the next time around could be a hybrid of the school’s last two realignment positions.
If the Class AAAAA is truncated to a number smaller than the balanced 42 schools, the ADM figures could lead to a stout local grouping. Socastee, Conway, St. James, North Myrtle Beach and Myrtle Beach are all within 25 spots of each other in the most recent list.
“That would be great for us, because it’s a local region,” Renfrow said. “It would add a lot of excitement and get a lot of people to the games. That would be make it tough on Carolina Forest. I would feel for them because I’ve been there. I’d be torn for them.”
A proposal that takes that route also likely leaves Georgetown (90th, 966 students) closer to an affiliation with current area Class AA programs Aynor, Loris and Waccamaw. Those three schools, coincidentally, rank Nos. 104, 105 and 106. Lake City, currently playing in Region VII-AAA, is No. 99, while current Class AA powerhouse Dillon is No. 100 with 888 students.
Current area Class A programs Carvers Bay (No. 168) and Green Sea Floyds (No. 177) could be headed for a Class AA grouping, again assuming the top and bottom classifications are smaller than the other three.
All signs point to the SCHSL still being on pace with its original time line for the realignment plan. If so, schools will be notified in mid-August of the proposals and have a few weeks to file for hardships or amended enrollment figures.
The realignment plan that will go into place for the 2016-2018 two-year block is then expected to be finalized and formally announced in September.
Until that first date (and eventually the second), Carolina Forest will have to hope for the best.
“Right now, what we’re looking at is we don’t know what the High School League is going to do,” Satterwhite said. “We’re going to have to cross that bridge when we get there. There are a lot of things you have to take into consideration on where the realignment is. … How do we attack it and get where we can make it sustainable?”
Fall sports practices on tap
Friday will serve as the first day of available practice for varsity programs in South Carolina.
In football, teams are allowed to practice in helmets and shorts for the first two days, followed by helmets and shoulder pads on days three and four.
Full contact is allowed after that on an alternating schedule of long days and short. The other sports also utilize a short/long-day approach for the first two weeks.
Football scrimmages can take place starting Aug. 6, with the other sports following the next day. The first swim meets can be held on Aug. 17; football Week 0 commences Aug. 20; girls golf, girls tennis and volleyball can start Aug. 24; cross country begins Aug. 31.