Northern Neck Teams will not only remain in the same competition of play for the next two seasons following the recent re-alignment plan approval, but they will welcome another high school to the mix. Considered to be a winner in the approval, officials from Rappahannock County High School are excited about competing with teams from the local area.
In early December, the Virginia High School League’s Executive Committee approved the final conference alignment plan for the next two school years changing it from its current three classifications (A, AA, AAA) to six. These changes are expected to improve competitions for all of its respective schools in all sports.
Two years ago, VHSL took action to increase its competition level by implementing a new football playoff system.
Based on student enrollment numbers, or last March’s Annual Daily Membership calculations from the Virginia Department of Education, schools will be matched with similar sized ones. In the case involving high schools in the Northern Neck, Essex with 467 students and Washington & Lee with 473 students, will be moved from Division 2 to Division 1. They will join the remaining schools such as Rappahannock (342), Colonial Beach (175), Lancaster (379) and Northumberland (438) in Division 1.
The six high schools, like many around the Commonwealth, will be able to continue with their respective districts, but they will also be formed into conferences. In this case, the Northern Neck District Teams will form six of the seven teams in Conference 43.
The seventh high school will be Region B and Bull Run District’s Rappahannock County High School.
Welcome Rappahannock County Panthers
In the weeks leading up the New Year, athletic director Jimmy Swindler said he is excited for his students to be competing against the Northern Neck District Teams.
“I think its great. I think it makes things far more equitable,” said Swindler.
Swindler spoke highly of Tom Horn, president of the Virginia Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association (VIAAA), after encouraging executive committee to reviewing the competition among the state’s high schools.
Out of the entire Bull Run District, Rappahannock County High School with an enrollment of 263 is the smallest and only Division 1 Team. Their competition ranges from being AA to AAA schools.
“For us to be in an alignment plan where we are playing teams twice or more than twice our size it’s difficult,” Swindler said. “It’s hard to be and remain competitive. Any system that will make things a little bit more equitable I was just very happy about.”
The student population was so small a year ago Swindler was forced to cancel the football season after a shortage of students did not participate.
This past fall, Rappahannock County formed their football team sending the players to scrimmage against Colonial Beach.
This was one of several meetings against Northern Neck District Teams including Rappahannock High in Richmond County.
Swindler, a graduate of Rappahannock County High, said he hopes with these new changes comes an increased support for the student athletes from the community.
The director was impressed with the turnout from fans when he attended the Golden Eagle Booster Club Classic at Washington & Lee High School during the Christmas break.
“Very different arena for us,” Swindler said. “There were probably at least 800 people there. If I draw 300 people for a basketball game that’s incredibly notable for me.”
Swindler compared his community to as a retirement area and is considered a rich rural area based on its land value.
Swindler said he also hopes to schedule some regular season games against teams from the Northern Neck District, which requires at least a two-hour drive. They are also looking to encourage students become two- to three-sport athletes.
In comparison to the Northern Neck schools, Rappahannock County offers major extra-curricular activities including football, volleyball, basketball, baseball and softball. But they also offer scholastic bowl, theatre, cross-country, wrestling, track and field, and boys and girls soccer. Swindler said he hopes to bring back tennis and golf.
Only Northumberland High School is able to host track events out of the five district teams. Rappahannock County also has the facilities to hold track meets.
“I’m very proud of our facilities,” Swindler said. “Being a small school we don’t have a grounds person, not a lot of equipment, but I’ve just been fortunate that money raised in the athletics department and with the help of the school board, we’ve been able get people to come in and maintain these places.”
Swindler said he is looking forward to the future in 1A East classification and specifically Conference 43.
“Everybody that I have met from the A.D. [athletic director] to the principals perspective, I feel very fortunate,” Swindler said. “As a part of the Bull Run District, I work together with a great group of individuals and truthfully I feel doubly fortunate to have two great groups to work with.”