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Where local schools are heading in the VHSL's next alignment cycle

Regular season and postseason play will look a little different for several Central Virginia high school athletic programs in 2023-24 following the appeals hearing for the Virginia High School League’s Recommended Alignment Committee Plan.

Louisa County High School is slated to make the jump from Class 4 to Class 5 next fall. The Lions will be in Region 5C along with fellow Jefferson District program Albemarle, which won its appeal to move from Region 5D to Region 5C.

“We were elated with the news that the VHSL had voted unanimously to allow us to move from 5D to 5C and we were appreciative of the athletic programs in both 5D and 5C for understanding our reasons for the move,” Albemarle athletic director Lisa Bendall said.

Western Albemarle will return to Class 3 after an impressive first season in Class 4 where they captured the VHSL’s National Guard Cup for athletic and activities excellence. The Warriors will be reunited with Monticello, which won an appeal to remain in Region 3C for the next cycle. The VHSL had recommended that the Mustangs move up to Class 4.

In addition, William Monroe High School will join the Valley District after a successful six-year stint in the Northwestern District.

While all of these changes have been agreed upon, they still must get final approval from the VHSL’s Executive Committee at its next meeting later this month.

Here’s a closer look at all of the decisions.

Albemarle, Louisa to Region 5C

As the only Class 5 school in the Charlottesville area during the current cycle, Albemarle’s athletic teams compete in the geographically vast Region 5D, which stretches from Northern Virginia to as far south as Roanoke and Halifax.

Last month, Bendall was approached by several coaches regarding concerns with the original realignment document, which extended Region 5D to 19 teams, while other regions featured fewer teams.

“Our coaches wanted to see a more balance level of competition between the divisions,” Bendall said, “and it made sense to attach to the same division as Louisa was placed.”

The move to Region 5C allows Albemarle to face more centrally located competition and spend less time traveling and out of class. On top of that, the addition of Louisa County to the region will help add to the district rivalry.

“The round-trip journeys to our competition will be less,” Bendall said. “We will have a district foe in this region, which we have not had before, and we will have strong competition from all teams representing 5C.”

Louisa County athletic director George Stanley said his administration also was supportive of the move last month during the initial proposal and said his athletic program welcomed the challenge ahead in Region 5C.

“New opportunities to compete is the name of the game,” said Stanley in an earlier interview. “You never really know how it will impact you until you go through it in real time. Speculation has never won or lost any games. You have to get in there and get after it. We just want to compete and develop great relationships in our new region.”

Monticello, Western in Region 3C

Speaking of great relationships, Monticello High School athletic director Matthew Pearman Sr. has always raved about the association his program has had with other schools in Region 3C.

Those relationships were put in jeopardy last month when the VHSL proposed that the Mustangs move from Class 3 to Class 4 because of rising ADM (Average Daily Membership) numbers for the 2023-24 school year.

Under these numbers, Monticello was nine students over the proposed cutoff line of 900 students set forth by the VHSL to be a Class 3 school. Pearman Sr. and his administration researched the data and credited the VHSL’s decision to use Grades 9 through 11 for the March ADM number for reclassification instead of using grades 9 through 12 as they had previously done.

“The Monticello class of 2023 is significantly larger than the Class of 2022 and had the Class of 2022 been included in the number, we would’ve been well under the cut line,” Pearman Sr. said.

The Monticello athletic director noted that another factor in enrollment numbers is the upcoming changes in Albemarle County with regards to how specialty academies are assigned for base schools.

“If a student was enrolled in the Health and Medical Services Academy here at Monticello, they enrolled as a student at Monticello,” Pearman Sr. explained. “If they were in the Environmental Sciences Academy at Western Albemarle or the Math Engineering and Science Academy (MESA) at Western Albemarle, they would become a student enrolled in that school.’

Effective for the 2023-24 school year, the model for specialty centers and enrollment in Albemarle County is set to change. Students will be enrolled in their base schools, but can still attend classes in an academy or center that’s housed elsewhere within the county.

“Here at Monticello, we have significantly more students that come attend the Health and Medical Sciences Academy than we have that attend the academies at Western Albemarle and Albemarle combined,” Pearman said. “It’s at a greater than 10-to-1 ratio of students who come here rather than students who attend MESA or ESA academies, so those two combined, given that we were nine students over the cutline at the time of the ADM numbers and that we met all three of the Virgnia High School League’s criteria for appeal.”

Region 3C supported Monticello’s appeal and issued a unanimous letter of support to stay in the region. They also met the third criteria for appeals by the VHSL as a move to Region 4D would have a significant increase in travel and missed class time. Pearman Sr. said the projected move, on average, would be an increase of nearly 80 miles per trip from Region 4D to Region 3C.

Pearman Sr. is pleased with the decision to remain in Region 3C, where Monticello will battle with Jefferson District rivals Fluvanna County and Western Albemarle in postseason competition. Western Albemarle moved to Class 4 in 2022 as part of the midcycle realignment, but has been approved to move back down to Region 3C.

“We are where we belong,” Pearman said. “I can assure you it was not an ‘Oh, we just want to play in a lower classification.’ We very well understand that sometime in the next 3 to 10 years we will likely be a Class 4 school, but following through with this appeal, and to remain in Class 3 and in Region 3C for at least the next three years, pending the next alignment cycle, does ensure us that when we do move to Class 4, we are fully prepared to move to Class 4. That we are truly a Class 4 sized school and that we are prepared fully to invest in the change, rather than looking ahead for another transition back to Class 3 and we feel that’s the best situation for our coaches, our students, our parents and our community at large.”

William Monroe moves to Valley District

William Monroe will remain in Region 3B for the upcoming cycle, but will compete in the Valley District for the 2023-24 season.

Athletic director Brian Collier noted the decision to change district’s was based on travel. The Northwestern District, William Monroe’s current home, is set to add two schools, Kettle Run and Fauquier, for the 2023-24 school year. The addition of these schools, along with trips to Brentsville District, Meridian and others would give the program seven trips of more than an hour for a district contest.

“We looked at what options may be out there for us to try and improve our travel and maintain a competitive balance,” Collier said. “At some point in the process, some of the Valley District schools contacted us about possibly joining them for the next cycle. We already play some of them in non-district contests and when we looked at the travel aspect, it made sense to explore it in more depth.”

The Valley District, which will now grow to seven schools in 2023 and add an eighth in 2024, unanimously approved William Monroe as a member of the district. The Northwestern District also gave its blessing.

After a successful stint in the Northwestern District, Collier said the program is excited about the future.

“We have enjoyed our time with those schools,” Collier said. “We have had success in most sports and activities, but we felt that this move would benefit our school and community in the long run.”


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