CHAPEL HILL — The fourth and final N.C. High School Athletic Association realignment draft remained the same as the previous one, and that came as welcome news to West Carteret.

The Patriots were confident they would remain in the same realigned league including Croatan, Swansboro, White Oak, Dixon and Richlands, but after so many prior changes, it was still nice to see the result.

“There were certainly lots of rumors and hearsay about our school moving to a different conference,” West Athletic Director Michael Turner said. “I’m not sure it had any traction. We felt confident we were OK where we were.”

The first two realignment drafts showed all three county teams in the same conference for the first time since Croatan came on the scene in 1998. Croatan has always been a 2A program. East and West haven’t been in the same conference since 1980 when East was last a 3A school. East dropped to 2A in 1981 and remained there until 2006 when it fell to 1A due to dwindling enrollment.

Croatan moved up to 3A in the realignment for the first time in its history, and East was bumped up to 2A and joined Southwest Onslow as two 2A schools in the 2A/3A split league that included West, Croatan, Swansboro, White Oak, Dixon and Richlands.

East appealed to remain in 1A after the second draft, and while it remained in the 2A division, it moved to a league that included 1A schools Pamlico, Jones Senior, Lejeune, Southside and Northside-Pinetown. It’s the only league in the state that has one team from a different division than the others, placing playoff restrictions on East.

“East moving out made us an outlier,” Turner said. “And with Southwest (Onslow) moving out, too, that opened up two spots.”

Southwest Onslow also moved, going to a conference including Wallace-Rose Hill, James Kenan, East Duplin, Kinston, North Lenoir and South Lenoir.

That took the previous realigned 2A/3A split league with the three county schools down to six 3A schools. Jacksonville and Northside-Jacksonville then hoped to be included. Those two Onslow County schools are part of a new realigned 3A/4A split league including Havelock, J.H. Rose, South Central, D.H. Conley and New Bern.

West was previously in a conference with those schools. Talk soon began that West would be taken out of its currently realigned league and placed into that one to make room for Northside-Jacksonville and Jacksonville to join fellow Onslow County schools Swansboro, White Oak, Richlands and Dixon, plus Croatan.

“It was really before the third draft when there was an appeal, and we didn’t even know about it,” Turner said. “It got sideways, and it seemed like they were trying to send us everywhere else but where we were. I had ADs reach out, saying they were sorry, but they were only doing it in their best interests. It wasn’t personal. They were looking out for their schools.”

And while it might have made sense to put all of the Onslow County schools in the same conference – in addition to Croatan – it didn’t make sense in the NCHSAA’s continuing effort to reduce travel. West is 75 miles from J.H. Rose while Jacksonville is 68. Fourteen round-trip miles can seem inconsequential for one trip, but not over three seasons involving more than 20 teams.

“The downside is that we’re now a six-team conference, and that hurts with scheduling,” Turner said. “But it means less time on a bus so the travel is good. And it will be a competitive league.”

In the end, Turner noted West would have played where it was placed and done so without complaint.

“We’ve been in the Greenville league before, we’ve been in the Wilmington league, we’ve been in the Wayne County league, so we play where the NCHSAA puts us,” he said. “I will say we are glad we are where we are.”

The NCHSAA Board of Directors will vote on the final realignment plan in March, and the alignment will begin in August.

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