Starting in 2013, Porter Ridge will be county’s only 4A team and join a new league
by Aaron Garcia
While other topics might have garnered most of the attention during the N.C. High School Athletic Association’s bi-annual board meeting in early May, several changes were enacted that will greatly affect Union County high school athletic departments, and perhaps none more so than Porter Ridge.
For the past four years, Union County high schools were split into two separate athletic conferences – the Rocky River 1A/2A and the Southern Carolina 3A/4A. Porter Ridge and Sun Valley were the county’s two Class 4A programs, which allowed the Pirates and Spartans to compete with Weddington, Marvin Ridge, Parkwood and Anson.
The latest enrollment numbers, which the NCHSAA uses to break schools up into its four classifications, have shaken things up, however.
While Porter Ridge’s projected enrollment numbers, based on the fall of 2011, still fall within the range of a Class 4A school, they are the only Union County high school at that level, as Sun Valley now projects as a 3A program.
When the final conference realignment proposal was accepted at the May meeting, Porter Ridge was slated to leave its Union County brethren and join a Mecklenburg County-based conference with schools such as Butler, Independence, Myers Park, Garinger and East Mecklenburg. For now, the league is being called Conference 6C.
The changes will go into effect at the start of the 2013-14 school year.
“For schools like Porter Ridge, it’s very difficult because we’re the only 4A school in Union County,” said Porter Ridge athletics director Bill Rogers. “Obviously, the best scenario for us would be in a conference similar to what we’re in now and have natural rivalries and camaraderies with the schools in our county.”
Rogers also acknowledged that the school’s size makes that an impossibility at this juncture. Porter Ridge currently is listed as having 1,434 students, while the biggest Class 3A program – Lee County – has 1,410 students. Marvin Ridge, by comparison, is the 11th-largest 3A school with 1,366 students. That doesn’t make Porter Ridge’s inclusion in Class 4A a perfect fit, however. Future conference foe Myers Park is the largest public high school in the state with 2,833 students – nearly double Porter Ridge’s population. Butler has 2,089 students, and Independence has 2,078.
“Even though we’re 4A, we’re a very small 4A and (the other schools in our future conference are) almost twice our size in enrollment, even though we’re all 4A,” said Rogers. “That’s a little bit of a concern because oftentimes, the more (students) you have to choose from, the better and more competitive you can be.”
Rogers said the decision to move Porter Ridge to a new league hardly came as a surprise, though he said he thought there was a chance Sun Valley would remain in the 4A classification. Once Sun Valley dropped to the 3A level, Rogers said he approached some similar-sized 4A schools surrounding Charlotte to gauge interest in creating a separate conference, but to no avail.
“Not all the schools were interested in that because of travel or they thought they had a chance of being put in a split conference in their county,” said Rogers.
Doug Jones, athletics director for Union County Public Schools, said he had hoped the NCHSAA would change to either five or three classifications, either of which would have allowed Porter Ridge to remain with its county rivals.
“That would be the ideal (situation), but with four classifications, we’ve got schools in three of the four (classifications),” said Jones. “If there is a plus, (Porter Ridge will be) playing against bigger schools (its) size. But nobody wants to tackle the Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools. It’s a tough road for them. We’d like to see (Porter Ridge) down here playing in our conference, but the four classifications didn’t create that for us.”
Added Rogers: “That’s no fault of anyone; it just comes down to that’s the fact of life. If the shoe fits, you wear it, and we’re a 4A school and the only one in the county. We can’t match them up in a split conference with anyone else because we’re the only 4A school.”
For the Porter Ridge coaching staff, the biggest change will likely be felt while filling out their schedules. Pirate girls basketball coach Ina Thompson said she hopes to continue to foster the in-county rivalries her team has established but will have to do so during her limited non-conference schedule, which won’t leave much room for facing anyone else. After all, who’s to say Porter Ridge won’t rejoin their county foes after the next realignment proposal in 2016?
“You’ve got to keep those rivalries going. If you let your student base population forget about what it’s like to have the rivalry with Marvin Ridge and the fans at football games, five years from now it will be kind of hard to rebuild that,” said Thompson, who said she doesn’t see that kind of relationship with Charlotte teams such as Myers Park or Garinger carrying over into heated-rivalry status.
There’s also the issue of good old bragging rights, or a lack thereof, under the new plan since not all Union county teams will face each other as they have in the past.
“In Union County, you’ll never know who is the best team,” said Thompson. “You’ll be comparing apples to oranges without that head-to-head competition.”
There also will be more subtle difference to navigate. For example, many CMS high schools end their days at 2:15 p.m., whereas Union County Public Schools get out at 3 p.m. There also is the potential for different spring break schedules, which could affect game schedules between the two school systems, but Jones said he doesn’t foresee any problems.
“That’s not a big issue,” Jones said. “Everyone works together from each county and tries to make it work. That won’t be an issue.”
For Porter Ridge football coach Blair Hardin, whose team advanced to the 2011 Class 4A state title game, the shakeup is the next step in his program’s evolution.
“I think it’s a good step for our program because we’ll face teams with a lot of tradition in Butler and Independence and East Mecklenburg,” he said. “It’s going to be a good test. We’ve faced a lot of good teams in the past few years, and we hope they’ve helped us prepare for this.”
Thompson said the move should be a good barometer for the Pirates’ athletic programs as a whole.
“I’m looking forward to the challenge to see how we will fare,” said Thompson. “I think most of our sports will be OK. We’re not scared or intimidated by it. I’d like to jump in there and see what we’re capable of doing.
“I think it’ll give us a better chance of being put on the map.”