IN THIS CORNER

This is how crazy 2020 has been.

A few weeks ago, East Carteret was a 1A athletic program.

Now as the year comes to a close, the Mariners are facing the prospect of becoming a 2A program playing in a mostly 3A league.

If you take East’s ADM (average daily membership), a fancy name for enrollment that was used to classify the 2019 football playoffs, it was far from a gigantic 1A school. It ranked 30th out of 72 schools with 503 students.

The most recent ADM has it at 534.

The average daily memberships of the schools in a new proposed 2A/3A conference made of Carteret and Onslow County schools has West Carteret at 1,130 followed by Swansboro, 1,086; White Oak, 1,057; Dixon, 891; Croatan, 874; Southwest Onslow, 706.

But ADMs didn’t solely dictate where schools were placed in the N.C. High School Athletic Association’s four classifications during this realignment schedule.

The association used a scoring formula that had ADM accounting for 50 percent and the other two 25-percent parts of the score included a three-year average of Wells Fargo State Cup standings and a three-year average of Identified Student Percentages.

The Wells Fargo State Cup recognizes high schools that achieve the best overall interscholastic athletic performance within each of the state’s four competitive classifications.

The Identified Student Percentage is the percentage of students at a school that receive government assistance as established by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

East hasn’t finished in the top 10 of the State Cup standings over the past three years, but thanks to the performance from some of its teams, it posted a realignment State Cup score of 44.375, which was higher than every Carteret, Onslow and Craven County athletic program besides Croatan (100.208) and Jacksonville (49.375).

The Mariners can rightly complain about being a 1A-sized school in a predominantly 3A league, but ADMs suddenly don’t matter as much as they used to, and if an appeal to the NCHSAA isn’t successful – the odds of it happening are miniscule – then this is the new reality.

And while, based on school size, it looks like a harsh reality … a deeper dive may show different.

As my partner in Carteret County sports coverage, Zack Nally pointed out Sunday in his column, “Keep Pounding,” travel in this new league is about as good as it gets for the Beaufort program. East’s average one-way distance will drop from approximately 64 miles in the 1A/2A Coastal 8 Conference to 40 in the new one.

Playing in a league with six other programs that close in proximity should also increase gate receipts.

Of course, gate receipts are often based on the success of a program’s teams, and there is opportunity to win in the new conference.

Let’s first take a look at the two revenue sports.

Southwest Onslow would be the prohibitive favorite every year in football. The Stallions have gone 40-16 over the past four years.

And after them?

It looks like a wide-open race for the runner-up spot.

East has the next-best four-year mark, going 30-21 in that time.

You could argue this is an apples-versus-oranges argument, seeing that the Mariners have been playing against 1A competition during this time, but since joining the Coastal 8 three years ago, they’ve played just eight of their 33 regular season games against teams in their own classification.

West is next with a 26-21 four-year mark, followed by Croatan with a 19-27 record that would have been 24-22 if not for using an ineligible player last season for five games.

And then it’s Swansboro (17-25), Dixon (13-30) and White Oak (6-36).

In boys basketball, East went 22-4 and won its league title last season, while West went 21-5 and captured its conference championship.

Of the remaining five teams, Dixon was the only one to finish above .500, going 20-8.

White Oak went 11-14, Croatan 9-15, Swansboro 9-17, and Southwest Onslow 0-22.

There is no reason to believe East couldn’t compete for a conference crown in the new league each season.

The Mariners could be strong in a wide-open girls basketball conference as well, and they’ve also shown they can compete with just about anybody in baseball and softball. East could also compete most years in track and field, at least on an individual level.

As for the other sports … well … yeah … that’s a problem.

Croatan has been one of the best wrestling programs in the state since its inception, and West has been a top 3A program on and off since it started.

West and Croatan have proven to be two of the best cross country programs in the eastern part of the state for the past 20 years, and have been two of the better volleyball programs in the area for a decade now.

Croatan and West would also likely compete for league titles in both boys and girls tennis and boys and girls golf.

The girls and boys soccer league would likely be one of the best in the state with Onslow County powers Swansboro, White Oak and Dixon to go with Croatan and West. Southwest Onslow has also produced some good teams in the past.

The Mariners’ biggest beef may be with its 2A classification, not its inclusion in a mostly 3A league, and East has a right to scoff at its reclassification.

But when it comes to competing for state championships, being in 2A might not make that much difference either.

The East boys basketball team has struggled to get past nontraditional programs (charters and magnets), finishing the postseason versus such a program in six of the past seven years.

It wouldn’t have to worry about running into Henderson Collegiate or Winston-Salem Prep in the playoffs anymore. And Kinston has dropped to 1A, so that helps. Instead, it would have to contend with a program like Farmville Central.

In football, what’s the difference in facing Tarboro or Edenton Holmes in the second or third round or Wallace-Rose Hill or Northeastern?

Unfortunately for the East tennis and soccer programs, nontraditional rivals Franklin Academy and Raleigh Charter have also moved up to 2A.

Would it be ideal for the Mariners to remain in 1A based on their enrollment?

Of course.

But at this point, it may take looking at the bright side of moving up to 2A.

(Send comments or questions to jj@thenewstimes.com or follow him on Twitter @jjsmithccnt.)

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