As fall sports season approaches for Arlington’s high schools, varsity athletes must adjust to the new Virginia High School League realignment and reclassification for post-season competition.
The athletic departments of Arlington schools have been aware that this shakeup was coming, but now that the plan is finalized and the 2013-14 school year is quickly approaching, many are wondering what exactly this means for their teams.
Virginia high schools had previously been organized by districts that were grouped by proximity. These districts were then classified based on enrollment size. The highly populated schools were in Group AAA, schools with average populations were in Group AA, and the smallest schools were in Group A. All three Arlington high schools were members of the AAA National District of the Northern Region.
While the National District is staying intact for regular season play, the playoff system is getting a major overhaul. The three statewide groups are being split into six, the smallest schools in Group 1A and the biggest in Group 6A.
Each group will crown its own state champion in each sport, except lacrosse, which will now crown two state championships as opposed to the one, unified championship given out since it became a VHSL-sanctioned sport in 2006.
Washington-Lee and Yorktown will continue to play the state’s biggest schools in Group 6A and will be joining National District rival Hayfield as part of Conference 6. Wakefield, with several hundred fewer students, will be in Conference 13 with the other local Group 5A schools.
“The reclassification offers those schools with a smaller student enrollment a fair shot at playing similar sized schools,” Noel Deskins, the Director of Student Activities at Wakefield High School, said in an email.
Bishop O’Connell High School is not affected by the reclassification because it is not a member of the VHSL. O’Connell competes against the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference.
Previously, the regular season was followed by a three-round, single elimination district playoff, where teams would compete against schools within their district for the title of district champions. The top four teams from each district then advanced to a Regional tournament, where the top two teams would advance to an eight team state championship.
Now, with the introduction of the conferences a new playoff system has developed. The playoffs start off similarly to the previous procedure, but schools will now be competing to be conference champions. After the conference playoffs have concluded, only the top two teams will advance to the regional tournament and the state tournament now will consist of only four teams.
Football is the only exception; the conference playoffs are bypassed and the top 16 teams will go straight into regional playoffs. Wakefield, which ended last season winless, will no longer play in the Northern Region with Yorktown and Washington-Lee — renamed the 6A North Region — instead, they will be in the 5A North Region.
Football is the sport perhaps least affected by the reclassification. Because teams can only play just one game a week, they were already divided into six divisions for state tournaments. Last year, Yorktown went undefeated until it fell to Stone Bridge in Ashburn in the Northern Region championship.
All three high schools will match up against each other and the rest of the National District during the regular season in an effort to maintain rivalry games.