By G. MICHAEL GRAHAMFort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter
Both state powers will see completely new districts starting in 2015.
In the case of the 22-time state champion Highlands Bluebirds, nothing changed from the original draft. The Bluebirds will move up to Class 5A, District 5 with arch-rival Covington Catholic, Dixie Heights and Grant County. Highlands has been in Class 4A, District 7 the past three years.
“We are excited about playing the local teams,” said Brian Weinrich, Highlands Head Coach. “These guys all know each other from different places and enjoy competing against one another.”
But the final outlook took on two fewer teams than the draft alignment for the five-time state champion Newport Central Catholic Thoroughbreds. They will still be in Class 2A, District 6 the same three teams as the current alignment in Newport, Lloyd Memorial and Covington Holy Cross minus Bishop Brossart, who is dropping to 1A.
The draft also had West Carter and Bath County in NewCath’s district. But the two successfully petitioned the Kentucky High School Athletic Association to move up to Class 3A, District 5 meaning the Thoroughbreds will not have to make a trip to eastern Kentucky for district play.
“We have to go find a game somewhere,” said Dan Wagner, NewCath Head Coach. “I’m sure it will be somebody who is pretty darn good. We’ll see how it goes. I’m not opposed to traveling as long we don’t do it too much.”
Covington Catholic and Dixie Heights had been constant opponents on the Highlands schedule. But Dixie Heights dropped Highlands from the 2012 schedule. The Bluebirds are 62-8 all-time against Dixie Heights. They are also 45-17 all-time against Covington Catholic and 6-0 against Grant County but have not faced the Braves since 2006.
Grant County Director of Athletics Steve Thompson e-mailed Kentucky High School Athletic Association Commissioner Julian Tackett about potentially moving to 6A or even withdrawing from district play for a couple years. Pendleton County withdrew from district play in 4A, District 7 for this year and last year and made itself ineligible for the playoffs as a result.
“We are a 5A school, but football is not the main sport here and probably never will be,” Thompson said in the e-mail to Tackett. “Also, we are a rural school district. As far as the number of students who participate in football is concerned, we are more of a 3A or even a 2A school in reality. Last year in our district, we were outscored on average of 48-7. We don’t anticipate being able to compete any better by having to play traditional football powers such as Highlands and Covington Catholic. I have seen the athletes that our boys have to compete against and they are just usually so much bigger and stronger than our boys, let alone much quicker. As a result, we get more injuries (and players quitting) and by the end of the season, we are just depleted.”
But Weinrich said Grant County decided to stay in the district meaning the Bluebirds had to find seven non-district opponents as opposed to eight. Highlands had to travel to John Hardin and Paducah Tilghman last year because local teams would not play them.
Instead of facing teams from eastern Kentucky in region play, the Bluebirds will take on teams from around Lexington. Woodford County, Montgomery County, Anderson County and Madison Southern make up Class 5A, District 6 after Shelby County dropped to 4A.
The Bluebirds and Covington Catholic had been in the same region with eastern Kentucky opponents like Ashland and Johnson Central for years. Those two are remaining in 4A.
“We’ve stuck in here and fought it out for the last (six) years,” Johnson Central Head Coach Jim Matney told the Ashland Daily Indepdendent. “The whole time we felt like we had the toughest road to go in the state. Had we not been in the same region as Highlands and CovCath, we probably would’ve slipped in there and would’ve at least gotten one state championship.”
On the state level, Highlands would face teams like 2013 5A runner-up Pulaski County like it did in 2009 or Harlan County. The Bluebirds knocked off the host Black Bears in the 2010 5A semifinals. They could run into three-time 5A champion Bowling Green in the title game at Western Kentucky University.
Things don’t change much region-wise or state-wise for NewCath except that western Kentucky power Mayfield moved up from 1A to 2A. The Thoroughbreds could still run into Walton-Verona or Gallatin County in region play and teams like Somerset, Danville or Prestonsburg in the state semifinals.
But both teams can now begin working on the 2015 and 2016 schedules. Weinrich said he had some verbal agreements with other schools. Contracts have been signed with Louisville St. Xavier, Boone County and Scott County. Scott County won the 6A crown last year. He said the other four contracts waiting for signatures are local teams as well.
NewCath often faces bigger schools like Dixie Heights, Simon Kenton and Campbell County in non-district play because smaller schools will not schedule the Thoroughbreds. Wagner liked the series against Cincinnati McNicholas but the game did not benefit the Rockets in terms of Ohio playoff points.
“It gets tough when you take 45 kids and have to face 70 kids week after week,” Wagner said. “Our kids get beat up a bit. But we’ll play it.”
NewCath opens its season on Aug. 22 at Ashland. Highlands opens a week later at Campbell County.