The signs point toward change

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By Craig Worrell, Sports Editor

Anyone who has driven regularly between Hillsville and Galax along U.S. 58 for the last 20-some odd years probably keeps an eye out for the marquee at Mt. Olivet United Methodist Church – at least, anyone other than serial texters and that one doofus in the MG with the paperback novel on his steering wheel who nearly bought someone a new mailbox and me a new fender.

For as long as I can remember, even before I was a licensed driver, the Mt. Olivet marquee has featured some pithy or humorous phrase or thought. But a particular one on there recently took my mind to a subject outside of the theological (unless one counts football as a religion, which is understandable).

“Change is not an event,” the sign read, “it’s a process.”

At least that’s what I think it said. It got changed, which I suppose was a minor process in and of itself.

It’s true, though. Personal change doesn’t happen overnight, and that’s what the sign was saying. But being the backslider that I am, my mind eventually meandered to this thought: Legislative change can, has, does and will happen overnight. It rarely ends there, however. In that respect, change can be both an event and a process.

That’s where the Virginia high school sports landscape finds itself right now, one year into the most drastic and sweeping change to occur in more than 40 years, maybe ever.

The ‘event’ happened this time last year, when fall sports practice began. Reclassification had taken the state’s high schools from a three-class setup to a six-class system, from four regions per group to two, and from a slew of playoff arrangements to a structured 16-teams-per-region format, statewide. District championships didn’t set playoff seeding. On the contrary, district titles became ceremonial at best. Instead, a rating system set the brackets, and did so in all sports, not just football.

And suddenly nothing was quite the same. Districts were rendered meaningless, other than to be used as scheduling facilitators. Heck, most districts did away with their season-ending tournaments altogether.

That is where the ‘process’ part kicked in. From that one big stone chunked into the pond, ripples continue to expand. I have believed from the beginning, and we’re seeing evidence to back it up, that tweaks and adjustments are going to happen, some minor and some major.

‘Scheduling facilitator’ may have been too kind a term. Something akin to being handcuffed to a district may be more appropriate. It’s no secret that Narrows and Bland County aren’t overjoyed with being in the same district and therfore forced to schedule the likes of competitively-superior Grayson County, Fort Chiswell, Graham and Galax, even though their arrangement has nothing to do with the new classification. Conversely, those ‘haves’ probably wouldn’t mind freeing up some space for improved competition, unshackled from the ‘have-nots.’

Carroll County took some lumps in football but was competitive in many sports in its first year in the River Ridge District. Travel is the issue with Carroll, which will hump it three times to the Roanoke Valley in a span of four Fridays this fall. Some sports make the trip twice in a couple of days. 

This 6A system with diminished district importance should allow for more open scheduling, something I foresee happening in the next five years.

A few years ago in this space I surmised that the VHSL landscape would some day be unrecognizable in comparison to what it was at the time. Perhaps we’re heading even more in that direction. We’re pretty close as it is.

Who knows, perhaps districts will cease to exist altogether. The VHSL would have concerns about schools being able to fill a schedule, but that stuff almost always works itself out. And there should be no irrational fear (envy?) of a team making the playoffs due to a schedule perceived as being weak. Nearly everybody makes it anyway these days, and the ratings – like the schedules – will work themselves out in the end. Want to play a watered-down schedule? Fine. Earn a lower rating and exit stage left in the first round of the playoffs after a top seed breaks its foot on your rear end.

The wrinkles from last year’s overhaul are starting to be ironed out. The most recent minutes posted on vhsl.org are from the June 24 meeting and they address a few requests by Twin County schools and the conferences in which they play:

* In 1A West, Patrick Henry-Glade Spring has been allowed to move to Conference 47 from 46 (which includes Galax) and Parry McCluer has been moved from 1A East into 1A West;

* In 2A West, Grayson County has discussed requesting a move from Conference 39 to 38, which includes Giles, James River, Floyd County, Glenvar and Martinsville;

* With the new Ridgeview (Clintwood/Haysi) landing in 2A West Conference 40 next year as the eighth school, Virginia High’s request to move from 40 to 39 was granted;

* In 4A North, travel is ridiculous with the likes of Carroll and Pulaski lumped in with schools scattered from Winchester to Charlottesville to the D.C. suburbs. A single bus load of kids away from being 3A in size, Carroll’s request to be placed in the Mountain Empire was tabled until district feedback could be obtained. However;

* Both 4A North and 4A South are expected to bring forth plans for realignment within the classification to address travel issues. The minutes do not reflect a voiced proposal in Conference 24 to replace the Danville schools with some from the Roanoke area.

The next meeting on the subject is in less than a week. The VHSL calendar revolves around football, like it or not, and changes will only happen every two years, as per the contract cycle for football. What doesn’t happen in time for the 2015-16 school year may come about in the next cycle. At any rate, those concentric ripples will continue to move in the VHSL’s pond, like the danger zone surrounding that goober in the MG.

On second thought, maybe it wasn’t a novel on the steering wheel but an instruction booklet.

Driving for Dummies.