Reclassification helps, hurts, depending on whom you ask

Westminster football takes hit as lone county 4A team

High Schools

February 02, 2003|By Rich Scherr | Rich Scherr,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

For some Carroll County schools, reclassification is seen as a blessing. For at least one, it's something more akin to a curse.

Reclassification, the reshuffling of schools into one of four state classifications every two years based on their enrollment size, will change the face of county athletics beginning next fall, shifting perennial Class 3A members South Carroll and Liberty into the smaller 2A, while leaving the Westminster football team in a most unenviable position.

"We could go 9-1 and not make the playoffs," said Owls coach Scott Tobias. "With eight teams, I don't even know if 10-0 would get us in."

That's because of a system that awards football teams points for each victory, based in part on the size of the opposing school. Currently, eight teams from each class -- including four region winners and teams with the next four highest point averages -- qualify for the postseason.

As the lone 4A team in the county, Westminster now will have the potential to earn fewer overall points. In all, three of the Owls' 2003 opponents have moved down in class -- Liberty and South Carroll to 2A, and Frederick to 3A. Factoring in a game against powerful Francis Scott Key, they will now be faced with the prospect of playing three 2A opponents.

"There's not another 4A school in the state that's playing one, let alone three," Tobias said. "When I saw that I was very upset. It's good competition. South Carroll and Key are two very good ballclubs. But frustrating would be the word to describe it. Being the only 4A school in Carroll County hurts."

Though there's talk of expanding the playoffs, Westminster still would need to produce one of its best seasons in school history to even have a chance.

For South Carroll, which has been a 3A school since the mid-1980s, a decrease in enrollment, thanks in part to last year's opening of nearby Century, is a double-edged sword.

"The competition may be a little bit easier, but we're going to be on a downtrend, I think, athletically in the next year or two," athletic director Jim Horn said. "There's a reason why we're moving down to 2A. We're just not getting the numbers."

As an example, South Carroll's freshman football team two years ago had only about 22 players. When they moved up the JV this past season, there were only about 15 left.

Horn foresees the Cavaliers remaining in 2A for "quite a while."

Liberty also will make the move downward, with rapidly falling enrollment leaving it projected to be the county's smallest school next year.

To athletic director Joe Reiter, the problem isn't so much state classification as much as conference affiliation.

In the newly expanded Monocacy Valley Athletic League, the Lions will compete in the largest of three divisions, the Chesapeake Conference, with teams like North Carroll and Westminster. Meanwhile, schools with higher enrollments, such as Francis Scott Key, South Carroll, Winters Mill and Century, will compete in the league's Piedmont Conference, comprised of mid-sized schools.

"I think football is probably going to be the one where it impacts the most in a negative way, only because we're still scheduled to play mostly 3A schools," Reiter said.

For a team continuing to rebuild after last year's 2-8 season, and not expecting to make a playoff run just yet, Reiter said that the Lions would be best served by playing more similarly sized competition, and having a better chance to gain both wins and confidence.

At Francis Scott Key, which for the first time will play full county schedules, the changing shape of the county could have its benefits. After being the county's smallest school for most of its existence, Key now is projected to be the third largest, behind only Westminster and North Carroll.

"I think it will help bring a little balance to the county," said athletic director Leo Totten. "It's really hard to tell, since we've played so few of the county schools, but I would hope that we'd be fairly even all across the board now."

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