Leader Blues

Saturday, October 03, 2009

SPORTS >> Searcy seeks different look to conference

Leader sports editor

A proposal put forward by Searcy High School could further affect the conference reclassification plan in place for 2010-2012.

The planned reclassification will combine current 7A schools Cabot and North Little Rock with current 6A schools Jonesboro, West Memphis, Jacksonville, Marion, Mountain Home and Searcy in a 7A-6A East Conference.

North Little Rock and Cabot will have the second- and third-largest enrollments in the state, respectively, and because of the disparity between those two and the 6A schools, Searcy is proposing keeping Cabot and North Little Rock in the Central conference and creating an East conference that would include Searcy, Jonesboro, Jacksonville, Marion, Mountain Home, Little Rock Parkview, Fair and West Memphis.

Next year’s classifications will have their own 7A and 6A state championships, but the records earned in the regular season would count toward postseason eligibility. Searcy’s objection is based on the small schools having to play the largest in the regular season.

The institutions involved in the Searcy proposal have until Oct. 21 to vote, and the Arkansas Activities Association executive board will meet and ratify the vote the next day.

“They still wanted to take into consideration the size of the schools,” AAA executive director Lance Taylor said of the Searcy proposal.

Enrollment figures on the AAA web site show North Little Rock’s enrollment at 2,321.67 and Cabot’s at 2,078.67. Searcy has the smallest enrollment, 848, of the schools slated for the new East conference.

“Some things you can’t control,” Searcy assistant superintendent Earl Walton said when contacted about the proposal. “West Memphis is an example of geography being an overriding issue. In the case of Cabot and North Little Rock, that was not an overriding issue in our view. The proposal was about making size disparity matter in the conference alignment.”

Searcy’s proposal would mean only one 7A school — West Memphis, which is being reclassified from 6A next year — would play in the East.

The enrollment disparity between the smallest school, Searcy, and the largest, West Memphis, would not be as great as it would be if Cabot and North Little Rock were in the conference.

West Memphis’ enrollment is 1,334.67.

“That’s all we’re trying to do. Squeeze it as much as you can,” Walton said.

The additional benefits of the Searcy plan, Walton said, are that the West Conference would be all 7A teams and the South would be all 6A, and the only hybrid conferences would be the East and Central.

But the Central would have larger 6A schools, like Van Buren, competing against the big 7A teams like North Little Rock and Cabot, while the East would have a smaller 7A, West Memphis, competing against the 6A schools.

“Our proposal maintains the size disparities have the least amount of impact as possible given the geography,” Walton said.