CHAPEL HILL — One county program was excited about moving up a classification in the recent release of the N.C. High School Athletic Association 2021-2025 realignment, and another was also excited … but in an entirely different way.
The other county program stayed put.
West Carteret remained in 3A, while Croatan moved up to 3A and East Carteret up to 2A.
Croatan was expecting its move, while East was not.
“I think it’s ridiculous,” East Athletic Director Daniel Griffee said. “No matter what formula they used to break these divisions down, we are not a 2A-sized school, and that is unfortunate. It’s crazy.”
In past years, the NCHSAA used ADM (average daily membership) and geography to assign the four divisions.
East has 534 students, standing in contrast to local 2A schools such as Southwest Onslow with 706 and West Craven with 774.
This time, the association used a realignment scoring formula that took into account those factors – with ADM accounting for 50 percent – and the other two 25-percent parts of the score including 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.
The NCHSAA removed the highest ISP data point for each school over the past three years to account for some anomalies related to natural disasters with most of those including hurricanes in the eastern part of the state.
The 2018-2019 ISP numbers were thrown out for county schools, with 2017-2018 coming in at 41.49% and 2019-2020 coming in at 22.13% for East. Compare those to Croatan at 21.68% in 20-17-2018 and 11.35% in 2019-2020 and West at 37.71% in 2017-2018 and 20.45% in 2019-2020.
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, 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).
Griffee chalked the move up to 2A to perhaps another reason.
“I know we had to count our MaST students in our enrollment,” he said. “That didn’t help.”
Each county school was required to count students at the Marine Science & Technology Early College High School in Morehead City who would normally attend their respective schools if MaST didn’t exist.
MaST opened in 2018, which is after the previous realignment in 2017. There are 91 students enrolled at the school with most coming from Morehead City and Beaufort.
“That is the biggest thing I can think of,” Griffee said. “If you add 40-something students to a 1A school, that can make a big difference. I can just tell you I’m shocked. I opened up that email and looked at the 1A, and when I didn’t see us, I said “No!’”
Griffee will now wait for the draft proposals of conferences that will be released Thursday.
“I’ve been blown away by so many things this year, I have no idea what that will look like,” he said. “I wouldn’t be shocked if they put us in a 3A/2A league. I don’t know how we wouldn’t be in a split league.”
West Craven and Southwest Onslow are the only other 2A teams in the vicinity of East with others like Ayden-Grifton, Washington, East Duplin, North Lenoir and South Lenoir each about 80 miles away.
Griffee suspected a combination of those teams could split with 1A teams like Pamlico, Jones Senior, Lejeune and Kinston, which dropped from 2A to 1A, to form a 2A/1A conference.
Or he guessed East could be in a split 2A/3A league with a combination of Onslow and Carteret County teams like West Carteret and Croatan, which moved up from 2A to 3A for the first time in its 23-year history.
“We’re very excited – well, not all of the coaches are, but most of them are,” Croatan Athletic Director Dave Boal said. “Our travel is going to be cut down, and we should have better gates.”
If Croatan was put in a 3A conference with Onslow County schools like Swansboro, White Oak, Jacksonville, Northside-Jacksonville, Richlands, and Dixon, as well as Havelock and West, its longest road trips would be 43 miles to Dixon and 44 to Richlands. It now travels 69 miles to Pender and 72 to Trask.
“If we could be in a big conference like that, it would help, because the bigger the conference, the better,” Boal said. “We’re locked in here on the coast, and it’s hard to find nonconference opponents. And if we can have our two biggest rivals in our conference, that would be awesome.”
Croatan counts West and Swansboro as its oldest and most intense rivals.
Boal also looked forward to the competitive balance of such a league. The current 1A/2A Coastal 8 Conference is top-heavy in many sports with some of Croatan’s teams dominating in recent years.
“We probably aren’t going to win as many conference titles every year, but our teams will be better in the long run because they will be used to better competition,” Boal said. “Can you imagine soccer, wrestling, cross country in that league? We would certainly be ready for the playoffs.”
Croatan (enrollment: 874) moved up a classification mostly on the merits of its scores from the State Cup standings. In 2019-2020, it became the only county athletic program to ever capture a Cup. Croatan was the Wells Fargo Cup runner-up last year and a top-five finisher for seven consecutive years.
As opposed to the other county ADs, West’s Michael Turner was confident where his school was going to end up when the realignment classification plan was released. West remained in 3A as it has for many years.
“There’s not a lot of 3A schools after you get away from Onslow (County),” he said. “And so, we like the proximity of Carteret and Onslow teams. And to get to be in a conference with Croatan for the first time ever, that is something. It would be cool to see that matchup in the last game of the regular season with something on the line.”
West (enrollment: 1,130) is currently in a six-team conference, which has been tough for nonconference scheduling due to the geography of West and other 3A schools. Travel, however, has been another matter in a league with Swansboro, Havelock, Jacksonville, Northside-Jacksonville, and Richlands.
“We had a challenge with scheduling, but less time on a bus didn’t hurt my feelings,” Turner said. “And if we could take this league and add Croatan, Richlands, and Dixon, that would be epic.”
Turner will now wait, like the other county athletic directors, for the release of the conference draft proposal on Thursday. While one projection has West in the ideal nine-team 3A league with Croatan and seven Onslow County schools, another has them in a split 3A/4A conference with New Bern and D.H. Conley.
“When we got out of that 3A/4A split years ago, we were pretty grateful,” Turner said. “We didn’t care where we went, it didn’t matter. I’m pretty confident we’ll in the Onslow league, but we’ll see.”