Locker Room: Major change for Cougars in football and Class 4, Region D

There is just a week left in the current school year. So the next thing on the agenda is next year. In this case that’s Pulaski County football. The 2019 season will bring about major change in the setup for region competition in the Virginia High School League.

Pulaski County is a member of Class 4, Region D. In the coming 2019 season Class 4, Region A will have 14 teams, Region B 16, and Region C 15. But Pulaski County’s region, Region D, will have only eight teams. This means that all eight teams in Region D will qualify for the playoffs. When I first was informed of this, I admit that I didn’t like it too much. But then I had a conversation with PCHS athletic director Scott Vest, and he made things very clear.

Vest said, “We’re open for suggestions, but there haven’t been any yet.” Some people just like to complain, and at face value, this is not the setup you would want. Vest also admits that. “Sure, you would like more teams, but tell me who they are? This will be tough enough just the way it is.”  Vest is right again. There aren’t any more teams to be added to the region, at least not within reason.

Fans from around the area are sure to ask what happened, and who’s to blame and all that sort of stuff, but there is no one to blame. Nobody messed up. Nothing is political. It’s just the way it is.

And here’s why. Carroll County, William Byrd, Charlottesville, Liberty Christian, and Bassett were all members of Class 4, Region D last year. They have all dropped to Class 3. Region D picked up one Class 4 team, Halifax dropped down from Class 5.

You could say Class 4, Region D is on an island, a very large island. But these are the times we’re dealing with. Enrollments are in a flux. They are going up and down in many areas of the state. You have one area of the state, like Loudoun County who is about to open its 18th high school in a year. That’s 18 high schools in one county! When was the last time a new high school opened its doors south of Richmond? You could say Hidden Valley, but that was a split with Cave Spring, and happened over 20 years ago.

The other three regions fit quite nicely from a geographical standpoint. So it’s nobody’s fault. It is as they say, what it is. It’s a situation you must live with, but it’s also a situation you try to take advantage of, and turn it into something good. Nobody needs to apologize. Everything will be just as meaningful as ever before.

But just in case you are wondering why they don’t enlarge Class 4, Region D, you could by spending a lot of time on the highway. The closest Class 4 schools that are in other regions are Louisa County, Powhatan, Culpeper, Monacan, and Dinwiddie. I suspect there are a lot of people who live in Pulaski County that have never even been to those places. That’s the only way to make Region D bigger, but obviously those schools are so far away it makes no sense at all. And you can be confident they feel the same. They don’t want to drive down here either.

So who are the eight teams that will make up Class 4, Region D this coming football season? First of all, just because the number is eight there is no relationship whatsoever with “easy.” In fact, I think it’s very likely Region D is as strong as any of the other three, maybe stronger.

The eight teams are Amherst, Blacksburg, E.C. Glass-Lynchburg, Halifax County, Jefferson-Forest, George Washington-Danville, Salem, and Pulaski County. Who comes out of that group of eight will have the ability to take on all comers. And by the way, those eight schools are the combined owners of 26 total state championships. Every school has at least one. In this case, the number eight is an indication of strength.

“The smaller number makes it tougher in this case,” says Cougar head coach Stephen James. “Having a really good regular season with a high power rating will be very important. Obviously, in this region there will not be that easy opening round playoff win, so having that good season and high rating will determine your seeding when the playoffs begin. That will be very important.”

While five Region D schools dropped to Class 3, there are also numerous schools who dropped from Class 5 to Class 4. Only Halifax in D, but in Region A, B, and C, Hampton, King’s Fork, Warwick, Orange County, Broad Run, and Tuscarora all dropped down. Four of those schools have been state powers at different stages over the years. Example, Broad Run was 69-27 as a Class 5 school and Tuscarora was 61-18. So Class 4 has gotten tougher statewide.

The rest of the state in Class 4 will have in Region A, Churchland, Denbigh, Grafton, Hampton, Heritage of Newport News, Jamestown, King’s Fork, Lake Taylor, Menchville, Smithfield, Warhill, Warwick, and Woodrow Wilson. Region B will have Caroline, Chancellor, Courtland, Dinwiddie, Eastern View, Hanover, PH-Ashland, Huguenot, King George, Lee-Davis, Louisa County, Monocan, Orange County, Powhatan, Spotsylvania, and George Wythe-Richmond. Region C will have Broad Run, Culpeper County, Dominion, Fauquier, Handley of Winchester, Park View-Sterling, Heritage-Leesburg, Kettle Run, Liberty Bealeton, Loudoun County, Loudoun Valley, Millbrook, Sherando, Tuscarora, and James Wood. The last time Pulaski County faced Hampton, Heritage-Newport News, Courtland, Culpeper, Fauquier, or Liberty Bealeton they were all members of Class 6, or Class 5 as were the Cougars.

How did these teams fair as a region last season? The teams that will make up Region A finished a combined 59-95, Region B 85-84, Region C 88-66, and Region D 64-33. So the eight teams that will make up Class 4, Region D will hold up very well. Last the season they combined to win almost 70% of their games.

Pulaski County will remain a member of the River Ridge District which will also include PH-Roanoke, Cave Spring, Hidden Valley, and Christiansburg.  PH is a Class 5 school, the other three Class 3s. Of course Salem and Blacksburg will also be RRD games. Out of district games will be against Northside, Abingdon, Bassett, William Byrd.

Two things are certain. The 2019 season will be very competitive and exciting.

By DAN CALLAHAN, The Patriot