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Football: Realignment draws ire of coaches

Special correspondent
Published:   |   Updated: March 13, 2013 at 06:57 PM
TAMPA -

It looks like the football district nicknamed the "District of Death" by fans and coaches -- Class 6A-District 8 -- just got more death defying.

After Friday's tentative football state series assignments for the 2013 and 2014 seasons were released by the Florida High School Athletic Association, Class 6A-District 8 now includes perennial state powerhouses Armwood, Hillsborough, Jefferson and Robinson, along with several teams that have struggled in recent years, Blake, Chamberlain, King, Leto and Lennard.

The new classifications, which are based on schools' enrollment numbers, didn't sit too well with several area coaches.

"I find this quite humorous," Armwood coach Sean Callahan said. "We could be playing a district game on the last game of the season with that many teams in our district now. The district gets bigger (from seven teams to nine) and more difficult and now has no room to play non-district games. … I make my kids wear a shirt and tie on district game days. I don't know if I can make them do it eight times."

Hillsborough coach Earl Garcia's reaction began with, "Are you kidding me? Just go ahead and add (four-time state champion) Plant, (five-time state champion) Bradenton Manatee and (2012 6A state champion) Miami Central while you're at it.''

Garcia added that maybe Robinson coach Mike DePue retired after this season because he knew his team was stepping up from Class 5A into the district of death.

"I certainly didn't see this coming," DePue said. "But I will say that this (realignment) is ludicrous. The FHSAA has once again done a disservice to several of its (member schools)."

DePue pointed out that Robinson is on the bubble of being classified as a Class 5A school where it was last season when it played in 5A-District 8 with arch-rival Jesuit and rival Lakewood. Now, Jesuit is in Class 5A-District 9 with only two other teams, Middleton and Spoto, which went a 2-8 and 3-7 respectively in 2012.

"The fact that Jesuit is playing in a three-team district and Robinson gets moved up to play in a nine-team district doesn't make any sense," DePue said. "Surely something better could have been worked out. Now, Robinson loses that great rivalry with Jesuit. It's sad and ridiculous."

Some Tampa Catholic fans might use "ridiculous" to describe the new Class 4A-District 6, which the Crusaders moved into with Avon Park, Sarasota Booker, Clewiston, Fort Myers Dunbar, LaBelle and Lake Placid -- all of which are more than an hour and up to three-hour drives from Tampa Catholic.

Tampa Catholic finished second last year in Class 3A-District 5 with Clearwater Central Catholic, Berkeley Prep and St. Petersburg Catholic.

"I saw (the district) and talked briefly with my athletic director about it and we'll see how this might be handled," said Mike Gregory, who officially became TC's head coach on Wednesday after Bob Henriquez stepped down following the season. "There is a tremendous amount of travel for us in that district. We're going to talk again after the (Christmas break)."

One option might be an appeal to move up in classification from 4A to 5A, something Jesuit's baseball team did a few years ago to avoid extremely long, and sometimes expensive road trips.

"It's something we might consider, but everything right now is strictly in preliminary discussions," Gregory said.

History has shown that most appeals to realignment, unless they involve moving up in classification, are met with denial by the county and the FHSAA.

Other movement among Hillsborough County teams included:

* Newsome and Riverview moving up from Class 7A to 8A.

* Strawberry Crest and Sickles moving from 6A to 7A.

* Chamberlain dropping from 7A to 6A.

* Robinson, Lennard and Blake move from 5A to 6A

The 2013-14 football district alignments affecting Hillsborough County schools, announced Friday by the FHSAA

8A-DISTRICT 6

Alonso, Bloomingdale, Newsome, Plant, Riverview, Wharton

Comment: This becomes a little tougher with the addition of Newsome.

7A-DISTRICT 7

Freedom, Gaither, Steinbrenner, Sickles, Tampa Bay Tech, Wiregrass Ranch

Comment: Wiregrass Ranch remains the only Pasco County team not in a Pasco-laden district. Sickles looks like the big winner as it gets out of Class 6A-District 8.

7A-DISTRICT 8

Brandon, Durant, East Bay, Plant City, Strawberry Crest

Comment: Strawberry Crest appears to have benefitted because it jumps out of Class 6A-District 8 and into the hunt for a playoff spot.

6A-DISTRICT 8

Armwood, Blake, Chamberlain, Hillsborough, Jefferson, King, Leto, Lennard, Robinson

Comment: Ouch. Only two playoff spots available between Armwood, Hillsborough, Jefferson and Robinson. Also looks like Leto, Blake, Chamberlain, Lennard and King are overmatched against the aforementioned powerhouses.

5A-DISTRICT 9

Jesuit, Middleton, Spoto

Comment: No one should be complaining here. Now, either Middleton and Spoto, which went 2-8 and 3-7, respectively last year, will make the playoffs in 2013 (district winners and runners-up advance). Jesuit, which missed the playoffs in 2012, is no doubt licking its chops.

4A-DISTRICT 6

Avon Park, Sarasota Booker, Clewiston, Fort Myers Dunbar, LaBelle, Lake Placid, Tampa Catholic

Comment: Tampa Catholic better gas up the bus and look to move up in classification. Every road game will be a trek for TC.

3A-DISTRICT 4

Berkeley Prep, Bishop McLaughlin, Lakeland Christian

Comment: Berkeley looks like a relative playoff lock the next two years.

2A-DISTRICT 5

Bradenton Christian, Cambridge Christian, Canterbury, Carrollwood Day, Indian Rocks Christian, Keswick Christian

Comment: Good news for CDS and Cambridge, as Admiral Farragut moved up to 3A.

Tampa Tribune staff writer Bill Ward contributed to this report.

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