I had a person ask me recently if I knew if Pea Ridge was poised to become a 5A school soon.
For the uninitiated, a 5A school is in reference to the classification a high school has with regard to athletic competition. There are seven classes in Arkansas with the largest schools populating the 7A class with the smallest residing in the 1A ranks.
Pea Ridge is currently in 4A with an average attendance of the top three grades being 398, as determined by the Arkansas Activities Association. They are the fifth biggest school in the Blackhawks' current district affiliation, the 4A-1.
Huntsville is the biggest school in the 4A class with an attendance of 492. Gravette ranks as the third biggest school in 4A with 467 with Berryville right behind them as fourth biggest with 464 students. Prairie Grove gives the 4A-1 four of the biggest seven schools in the 4A classification with 446 students. Gentry and Lincoln are the smallest public schools in the district with 335 and 319 person student bodies ranking them 35th and 40th. Pea Ridge? We rank 20th.
A former 4A-1 school, Farmington made the move up into the 5A ranks during the last cycle with 538 students. The Cardinals have no school geographically close to them in the 5A class, with Alma the closest. Four of their foes are around Conway (Greenbrier, Maumelle, Vilonia and Morrilton) with the two other teams far away in Harrison and Clarksville.
Some locals are afraid that for Pea Ridge to go up to 5A would mean a huge jump in travel time and fuel costs for fans and family to follow the Blackhawks. True enough, had the 'Hawks moved up this year, it would have placed a far greater demand on time and travel, especially proving costly for school budgets. With so many houses going up in the area, could there be enough bump in enrollment to push us into 5A?
For those worried about going 5A, it would be well to know that the classes aren't set up on the number of students you have, but on the rank those students place you in. While our student population has steadily gone up, so has most all the other schools populations in the 4A-1 as well. If all schools grow at the same rate, nothing changes. Perhaps someday most of the 4A-1 schools ascend into 5A and by the time Pea Ridge gets there, it may well be that most of the present conference schools are already there.
Huntsville is only 10 students away from the smallest 5A school right now with Gravette and Berryville a little over 50 back. Prairie Grove has 446 students, significantly ahead of Pea Ridge's number. The 'Hawks are a little above the middle of the enrollments of 4A schools and ought to be 4A for at least the next two cycles, at least through 2020. They will begin determining the 2018-2020 cycle in about a year from now.
With all the new houses going up and with students continuing to transfer from schools adjacent to Pea Ridge, there could be enough of a surge to change my prediction, but I can't see that coming in the next 18 months. Beyond that, who knows.
With Bentonville High School finally splitting into two (Bentonville West), Springdale High School has re-emerged as the largest school in the state with 2,440 enrollment. Bentonville and Bentonville West have projected enrollments of 1,600 students each, ranking them near the bottom of the 7A class, with only Van Buren smaller than them in their class. Van Buren has 1,400 students.
West Memphis is atop the 6A class with 1,300 students while the bottom sized 6A school is Greenwood with 836 enrolled there. The 5A biggest school is Little Rock McClellan with 731, with Morrilton the smallest 5A with 502.
As I said before, Huntsville is the biggest 4A school with 492, with Booneville moving back up to 4A with the smallest enrollment in the class of 297. Rivercrest High School, over in far eastern Arkansas, leads the 2A student body enrollments with 294 with the smallest school new 3A participant Junction City. Junction City has long dominated 2A athletics with multiple state championships but has 186 students which puts them into the higher class.
Pangburn is the biggie in 2A with 184 students with Marvell the smallest in the class with 90 students. Marvell is actually smaller than several 1A schools but since they play football, they play in the higher ranks. Bay is the big 1A school with 125 students with the smallest of the small being Umpire High School which gets by with 35 high school students.
For the record, there are 16 7A schools with the same number of schools in the 6A class. Thirty-two schools make up the 5A classification with 48 making up the 4A roster of schools. There are 57 schools assigned to 3A this cycle with 62 making up the 2A class. Fifty-six schools fill out the 1A classification with 290 high schools of all the classes combined, counting public and private schools alike.
The 4A-1 football league is the same as it has been but the Arkansas Activities Association is going to rely on more blended districts in a move to same travel time and costs for the schools. This most directly affects the Pea Ridge volleyball girls as they will play in a new blended conference, the 1A-4A-2.
This will be a smaller six-team league with Alpena, Berryville, Eureka Springs, Green Forest, Pea Ridge and Huntsville as members. Pea Ridge and Huntsville are by far the biggest schools in this arrangement. The other 4A-1 schools will be playing with Elkins and West Fork taking the 'Hawks' and Eagles' spots. Each league will play a double round robin, then break up into their respective classes for regional play at the end of the season.
There are also blended leagues for competition I suppose for baseball, softball and basketball. This will be a 3A-4A league with 10 members including current 4A-1 members Gentry, Gravette, Lincoln, Prairie Grove, Shiloh and Pea Ridge. The 3A members of the new league will be Elkins, Greenland, Haas Hall and West Fork.
I don't know if this blending thing is a great idea, at least for our part of the state. The 4A-1 has a relatively small travel demand, but the rest of the state is not as blessed.
Having Haas Hall playing much bigger schools from the 4A-1 isn't a good idea, and in volleyball, having Decatur playing Shiloh in equal terms in volleyball is heavily one sided.
Ironically, all these league shifts were done before the huge downturn in the price of fuel. Perhaps, if the price of oil had dropped this dramatically during the reclassification process, none of this may have ever happened. It did, however, but at the end of the new cycle it might be revisited and perhaps changed.
Editor's note: John McGee is an award-winning columnist and sports writer. He can be contacted through The Times at firstname.lastname@example.org.Editorial on 03/30/2016
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