By Chris Whitfield
The Georgia High School Association’s Executive Committee finalized the organization’s reclassification process on Tuesday, but with multiple changes to Class 5A, Dalton High School is facing a challenge filling out its football schedule for the next two seasons.
The reclassification process — done every two years and based on enrollment at member schools — has gone through three different changes in regards to the region and opponents for Dalton.
Originally, Dalton was slated to play in Region 5-5A, which stretched from Whitfield County south to Cobb County and west to the Alabama state line. That region had 11 member schools.
However, after concerns about a separate 17-team region in Class 5A involving Metro Atlanta teams, region lines were redrawn and Dalton was moved to Region 7-5A, which swept south down I-75, picking up teams in Floyd County, Bartow County, Cobb County and Cherokee County before plunging eastward to Forsyth County and the northern portion of Fulton County.
Now, Dalton is in a region of 14 teams, with seven teams in each of the league’s two sub-regions. Region coaches have approved a scheduling plan that calls for two non-region games, one crossover game (in which a team from one sub-region plays a team from the other), six sub-region games and a regular season finale that will determine playoff seeding.
Dalton is in Sub-region 7A-5A with Cass, Creekview, River Ridge, Rome, Sequoyah and Woodland-Bartow. Sub-region 7B-5A consists of new northern Fulton County school Cambridge, Forsyth Central, Kell, North Atlanta, North Springs, Riverwood and Sprayberry. The Cats will play their crossover game against North Atlanta, hosting the Warriors this year and traveling in 2015.
The process for determining the region’s four qualifiers for the state playoffs will have the sub-region champions playing each other for the top two spots, with both assured of advancing to state and hosting in the first round. Each sub-region’s No. 2 seed will play the No. 3 seed from the other sub-region, with the winners claiming the third and fourth seeds from the region in the state playoffs.
Dalton’s off date will be the week preceding the regular season finale, and the Catamounts will face local rival Northwest Whitfield in their preseason scrimmage for the next two years.
Dalton coach Matt Land has scheduled Calhoun for the season’s second game the next two years, but must find one other game to complete a 10-game schedule. Because most regions had few changes throughout the reclassification process, most teams in the area have already committed to their schedules over the next two seasons. Dalton is the only school in Murray or Whitfield counties in Class 5A.
“Our schedule was set for us when we first got into this because we were in an 11-team region and it was a straight region schedule,” Land said. “When we switched the first time, we had two crossover games, so I only needed one game with Calhoun.
“Then when they brought North Atlanta over with a lateral move in the third round of this thing, we went back and did it all over again and went to one crossover game. I wasn’t going to book anyone until we knew for sure, and I didn’t want to do that to some other team.”
The plan must be approved by the principals of the schools in the region, but Land believes that to be merely a formality at this point.
Now comes the matter of finding a 10th game.
“It gives us an opportunity to play teams that I would like to play that maybe we haven’t had a chance to play in the past,” Land said. “Alabama is reclassifying this year, so there will be a few (opponents available). I don’t feel rushed. We could look at Alabama or teams in Atlanta or a South Georgia team on either a home-and-home basis or at a neutral site. We are looking at all of our options.”
Land looked at the possibility of playing teams in Tennessee, but high schools in that state realign their schedules on years offsetting to the GHSA.
For other sports, Dalton athletic director Jeff McKinney said the principals and athletic directors from the schools are scheduled to meet on Friday at River Ridge High School in Cherokee County to discuss scheduling for the next two years.