By BRAD STEPHENS email@example.com
Coaches are comparing the area’s new Class 4A district to college football’s mighty Southeastern Conference.
“You’d better strap it up every week,” new Warren East coach Justin Chaffin said, “or you can find yourself in a rough spot.”
Realignment occurs every four years in Kentucky high school football. The four-year cycle that begins this season features an intriguing group in Class 4A, District 2.
Allen County-Scottsville, Franklin-Simpson and Warren East remain in the district, as they did before. But Breckinridge County has been moved out of the district and replaced with South Warren, moving up from Class 3A, and Warren Central, moving down from Class 5A.
Now five strong programs in a close proximity to one another will battle it out for just four playoff spots.
“I really feel like we’re going to have somebody sitting out come November that would be a third or fourth place, maybe higher, in most of the 4A districts in the state,” ACS coach Brad Hood said. “I feel like the team that’s going to be left out is still going to be a good football team.”
It’s that sort of pressure that caused South Warren coach Brandon Smith to compare the new district to the SEC.
From 2011-14 the Spartans competed in Class 3A, District 2 against Adair, Edmonson, Hart and Monroe counties.
South dominated that district, going 13-3 in regular season district play, including an 8-0 mark the last two seasons.
“We’re going to miss 3A, honestly,” Smith said. “We’re in for a whole new world – a culture shock, really.
“In our old district the last couple of years, we knew we were going to have one game that was going to decide a district championship. Now you’ve got Allen County, Warren East, Warren Central, Franklin-Simpson. In my opinion I don’t think there’s a better five-team district in the state.”
On the other hand, Warren Central moves down after competing the last eight years as a member of Class 5A, District 2.
The Dragons faced Barren County, Bowling Green, Greenwood and Logan County in that district. They fared well against that competition, going 3-1 in regular season district play each of the last four years.
Playing teams like Bowling Green and Greenwood in years past means Central won’t be in for a total shock when it moves into this new district, new coach Clay Stephens said.
“It is not going to be easy,” Stephens said. “But the district of old was not easy as well, so the Dragons are used to it.”
The Courier-Journal’s preseason coaches’ poll ranked South Warren third in all of Class 4A, with Franklin-Simpson at No. 5.
Those two schools are separated by 13 miles on U.S. 31-W but have never met on the gridiron. They’ll tangle for the first time Sept. 25 in Bowling Green.
“We’ve got to play to make it a rivalry and we haven’t done that yet,” Wildcats coach Doug Preston said. “We’ll see how things go over the next couple of years but it is good to play locally.”
Games between the five District 2 schools figure to generate more excitement among players and fans than games in South’s previous district did, Smith said.
“The atmosphere will be good,” he said. “In that old district you’d get some bad crowds, bad gates. I think all these games they’ve got great fan bases and they’re pretty excited.”
The four teams from District 2 that make the 4A playoffs will face teams from the new District 1 – Calloway County, Hopkins County Central, Hopkinsville, Logan County and Madisonville-North Hopkins.
Waiting in the state semifinals will likely be John Hardin, Collins, Franklin County or North Oldham.
Potential state finalists that local teams could face include Ashland Blazer, Bourbon County and Johnson Central.
While Class 4A, District 2 will be characterized by games with playoff implications, Class 5A, District 2 is unique because of coaches’ familiarities with each other.
The head coaches at the four schools (Barren County, Bowling Green, Grayson County and Greenwood) have all worked together at some point in their careers.
Greenwood coach Chris Seabolt was an assistant at Grayson under coach Ed Smart and at BGHS under coach Kevin Wallace and alongside current Barren coach Jeff Griffith.
Meanwhile Smart and Wallace worked together at Warren East in the 1990s. Griffith and Smart were also part of Greenwood staffs in the ‘90s.
Combine those ties with coaches’ memberships in the recently revived Southern Kentucky Conference, and the men leading the four programs in Class 5A, District 2 know each other well.
“There’s not anybody on the other sidelines this year that I’m not going to know on a personal level,” Seabolt said. “It makes for a unique situation in some of these instances but it’s a good situation because it’s somebody you know and are a colleague with.”
Grayson County replaces Warren Central in the district. Smart’s Cougars went 9-3 last season as a member of Class 5A, District 3.
“Obviously anybody that knows football knows we will match up better with Grayson County than we do with Warren Central,” Seabolt said. “Grayson typically does not have great athletes.
“… But they’re going to be a well-coached team and get after our rear ends. It’s a trade-off.”
The postseason road will be tougher for Bowling Green, ranked No. 2 in the C-J’s preseason 5A coaches’ poll, and the rest of the teams in District 2.
Class 5A, District 1 features the team that eliminated BGHS last season, Graves County, plus Christian County and defending 4A state champion Owensboro.
OHS was ranked No. 5 in the preseason poll, with Christian sixth and Graves seventh.
A team from the Louisville area will likely be waiting in the state semifinals, while powerhouse Highlands, Covington Catholic and defending 5A champion Pulaski County are all potential state title game opponents.
“I look at it from a playoff perspective,” Wallace said. “... I think the playoff structure becomes a little more difficult even though we lost Warren Central.”
One game that won’t be affected by district realignment is Bowling Green vs. Warren Central.
The teams will renew one the area’s oldest rivalries Sept. 18 at the Purples’ El Donaldson Stadium.
Wallace said he had great respect for the Dragons for continuing that series even though the teams will no longer compete in the same district.
He mentioned Franklin-Simpson and South Warren as area teams that aren’t on the Purples’ schedule that he’d like to play.
“I think it’s insane that we all don’t play each other around here,” Wallace said. “… But we’ve gotten used to having to travel everywhere to play so I’m extremely respectful of Warren Central for continuing to play and keep a traditional rivalry game going.”
“... I know one thing: Their kids enjoy playing ours and ours enjoy playing theirs. You bring excitement to the game that doesn’t occur every week.”