Sports Column: Take a look at the MHSAA’s next alignment plan
Published Sunday 6 November 2022 at 8:00 am
One of the oddities of the sports world is that fans love to think about future seasons just as much as they do about the current one. That makes things like the day the NFL schedule is released — or, closer to home, the announcement of the Mississippi High School Activities Association’s reclassification — a big event.
The MHSAA’s recent split has shaken the association’s direction in more ways than one. It seems worth exploring some of the numbers and what they mean for Warren Central and Vicksburg High.
• For the first time since 2009, MHSAA added a classification. The last added Class 6A but kept the same structure as the previous alignment, with the 32 largest schools in the highest classification and the next 32 in 5A.
This time there are only 24 schools in each of grades 7A, 6A and 5A. It aims to improve the competitive balance between schools at the other end of each class.
• With 24 teams in each classification instead of 32, the size of each region will also change from eight teams for football and four for other sports to six in each sport.
For football, the region’s schedule is becoming more of a sprint with just five games instead of seven. However, it will create opportunities for some attractive out-of-region games.
Warren Central, for example, may be able to revive the football series with longtime rivals Clinton and Madison Central gone in the 2021-23 realignment.
Other sports have expanded regional schedules with 10 games instead of the current six. It might reduce travel, but will limit opportunities to play some Marquee Matchups.
• Speaking of “other” sports, the new 2-6A region that placed Warren Central and Vicksburg could be one of the best all-sport regions in Tier 6A.
Both Warren County schools hold their own in baseball, softball, and basketball, but must contend with multiple state powers.
Neshoba Central is a softball dynasty in the current Class 5A and a consistent contender for the Girls’ Basketball State Championship. Callaway is always dangerous in boys’ basketball, and Columbus isn’t far from a couple of state championships. Ridgeland is a bit of a reflection of Warren Central and Vicksburg – solid, if not dominant, in most sports.
It adds up to a balanced league that should be fun all year round.
• Interestingly, four of the smallest seven schools in Class 5A—Vicksburg, Neshoba Central, Columbus, and Callaway—ended up in Region 2-6A. This is mainly a function of geography.
Region 1-6A includes six schools in northern Mississippi, and 4-6A is a cluster of schools along the coast. That left 2-6A and 3-6A to split everything in between.
Region 3-6A has three Jackson Metro schools, Hattiesburg, West Jones and Pearl River Central.
Vicksburg, Warren Central, Ridgeland, and Callaway are natural geographic fits for 2-6A and have actually been in regions together before. However, Columbus and Neshoba Central are geographic orphans with no neighbors. They can’t be squeezed into the 1-6A region, and there’s no point in sending them south. So they made Region 2-6A the Land of Misfit Toys.
• For the first time in 10 years, Warren Central and Vicksburg are in the same ranking and region, but don’t get used to it.
While Warren Central appears anchored in Class 6A for the foreseeable future — there were 55 students below the 6A-7A intersection — Vicksburg could easily be relegated to Class 5A if MHSAA realigns again in 2024.
Beginning with this cycle, MHSAA bases its classifications on the enrollment numbers of students in grades 9-11. Vicksburg had 699 students in these classes, making it the smallest Class 6A school. Greenville was the largest Class 5A with 690.
Jim Hill (712), Columbus (706), Callaway (705) and Gautier (683) were also on the 5A/6A boundary. Even small shifts in the population of these schools over the next two years could send any of them up or down a grade. The opening of new schools could also change the landscape.
Warren Central and Vicksburg will always play each other in everything. It’s just that their reunion as regional rivals might be temporary, so enjoy it while it lasts.
Ernest Bowker is Sports Editor for the Vicksburg Post. He can be reached at [email protected]