Dalton High School will be isolated from the area’s athletic programs and North Murray and Murray County are expected to have an official rivalry, according to classification divisions released Monday by the Georgia High School Association.
Dalton will be in Class 5A, moving away from Whitfield County schools and current Region 7-4A rivals Northwest Whitfield and Southeast Whitfield — both of whom remain in Class 4A. Coahulla Creek, Murray County and North Murray are in Class 3A, while Morris Innovative — which has varsity athletic teams for cross country, boys basketball and soccer — drops from Class 2A to A, where Christian Heritage will remain.
For Dalton, the nearest Class 5A schools are Rome in Floyd County and Cass in Bartow County. The distance from Dalton to Cass is about 43 miles, while a trip to Rome is approximately 45 miles. The Catamounts will be in a similar situation to Northwest during the 2010-11 and 2011-12 academic years, when the Bruins were in Class 4A and Dalton and Southeast were in Class 3A. Murray County was also in an isolation position before the opening of North Murray, forcing the Indians to play in a region with Cherokee County and Cobb County teams.
“We knew that we would have a change, so I am not surprised about moving up,” Dalton athletic director Jeff McKinney said. “Our concerns are the travel and the missed academic time in the classroom. For football, you are talking about at most five games in a season. For the other teams, it is a lot more travel.”
Travel is the main concern for Dalton boys basketball coach Mike Duffie.
“We did it before, and it is a lot of fun,” Duffie said sarcastically. “It is what we have got to do. It is no choice. The biggest factor for me is the time and the travel. The thing that will really hurt is our B-team programs in all sports. That is something that people don’t think about. How are you going to have a B-team game now? You can’t leave at 1 o’clock to have a B-team game.”
The loss of close rivals in the region could also hurt financially in terms of gate revenue, depending on the way the region alignments shake out in the next round of the process.
From 2008 to the end of the school year in 2010, Dalton was in Region 7-4A in what was then the second-highest classification. The Catamounts were in a sub-region with Cass, Woodland-Bartow, Cherokee County’s Sequoyah and Rome. However, they also had natural rivals Northwest and Murray County in the sub-region as well.
“It is going to be back similar to what we had then,” said McKinney, who is in his first year as athletic director after previously leading the school’s girls basketball and softball programs. “I am sure there was some kind of financial strain. I know there was a strain on gates. But we also had some great rivals. Dalton and Rome used to be a real strong rivalry.”
The GHSA’s reclassification committee met in Thomaston on Monday to divide member schools into six classifications based on population numbers at the schools. The schools with the highest population numbers were placed in Class 6A, with the remainder divided among the other five, with roughly 70 schools in each classification. Class A has 101 schools, but some of those schools have limited athletic programs.
Schools have until Dec. 2 to submit their intent to play in a higher classification, and the reclassification committee will meet on Dec. 3 to place schools in regions. The final reclassification plan will be submitted to the full executive committee on Jan. 14, 2014, after schools have had a chance to request lateral moves from one region to another.
Dalton High’s October full-time enrollment (FTE) count, which is reported to the state Department of Education for funding purposes, was 1,640. That number puts Dalton firmly in the middle of Class 5A, with Winder-Barrow projected as the largest school in the classification with 1,795 students. The smallest school in the class is Woodland-Henry, with an enrollment of 1,413.
Reclassification is done every two years. In the 2011 reclassification cycle, Dalton’s FTE was 1,428.
One of the consequences of realignment is that it appears Murray County and North Murray will be in the same region, forcing the two schools to face each other regularly in athletics. Since North Murray opened in 2009, the two schools have rarely met in athletic competition and have never faced each other in the regular season in football or basketball.
“I think since the split we have settled into separate schools, and the split years are behind us,” said Greg Linder, Murray County High School’s athletic director and boys basketball coach. “Murray and North Murray can look forward to having a great rivalry.”
North Murray athletic director Roger Rainey said he looked forward to meeting the Indians.
“That is going to be different. It is a unique situation, but I think that it is something that our fans on both sides of the county has wanted,” Rainey said. “I have always said that if we were in the same region, I would be rooting for Murray County in every sport and every game except when they are playing against us.”
Coahulla Creek would most likely be in the same region with the Murray County schools. Adairsville, Calhoun, Cedartown, Ringgold and Sonoraville could be in the region as well.
“It is pretty similar to where we were the past two years,” Coahulla Creek athletic director Rhett Parrott said. “We feel like we are in a good spot and have an opportunity to be competitive. It is nice to play those local teams. It creates that rivalry close by.”
In Class 4A, Northwest and Southeast are geographically close to Heritage-Catoosa, Ridgeland, LaFayette and Cartersville.
Complete classifications are available at ghsa.net.