HENDERSON — A conference realignment proposed by the N.C. High School Athletic Association would bring some changes for the teams Vance County High, J.F. Webb and Warren County High field starting in the 2021-22 school year.
Vance High would find itself situated in the unnamed 2A/3A Conference 17 alongside several familiar opponents in Bunn, Louisburg and Franklinton.
But the plan remains subject to change.
“This is the first draft, so I do expect changes to occur,” said Joe Sharrow, Vance High’s assistant principal and athletic director. “The last time we went through realignment, what our conference looked like from the first draft to what it ultimately looked like was completely different, and I believe that will happen again.”
When Northern and Southern Vance were consolidated into Vance County back in 2018, the school was a part of the Northern Carolina 1A/2A Conference, which included South Granville and Granville Central, along with local rivals Warren County and J.F. Webb.
With the merger resulting in a larger student body, Vance County elected to join the Big 8 3A Conference for the 2019 season, where their teams met stiff competition from the likes of Southern Durham, Northern Durham and many others.
Although Vance County’s time in the Big 8 3A Conference is tentatively scheduled to come to an end, Sharrow has been grateful for the relationships Vance County has built with those member schools only a couple of years removed from the consolidation.
“Everything has gone very well for us [in the Big 8],” Sharrow said. “That’s a very established conference that has been around for a long time. Northern Vance was a member of that conference during the 2012-16 realignment cycle, and Southern Vance also played with many of those schools in a similar conference. Everyone has been very welcoming the past two years and it’s been a great experience for our school.”
Henderson Collegiate, Vance Charter and Oxford Prep are not significantly impacted by the NCHSAA’s current realignment proposal. All three are currently slotted into 1A Conference 11 alongside Eno River Academy, Roxboro Community and Voyager Academy.
Conversely, J.F. Webb would move up to the 2A/3A Conference 18, which would also feature Granville Central, South Granville and Southern Durham. Warren County would transition into the 1A-exclusive Conference 9 after previously being in the Northern Carolina 1A/2A Conference.
Warren County’s prospective in-conference opponents would include schools from Northampton and Halifax counties.
Warren County athletic director Wanda Thompson enjoyed seeing the school’s student athletes and coaches compete against many great schools in the Northern Carolina 1A/2A Conference, but she is also eager to build new relationships with those that have been proposed to join Conference 9.
“We’re excited about the new conference,” Thompson said. “We’ve been in the Northern Carolina Conference for years and had a great relationship with the coaches and ADs. We’re definitely going to miss them, but the coaches like the current proposal and we are looking forward to next year.”
While Thompson understands that the current proposal could change, she said that the current outline works to Warren County’s advantage because she believes those teams will present great challenges to the student athletes while also providing electric environments once COVID-19 restrictions are lifted.
“We’ve always played Northwest Halifax as a non-conference opponent.” Thompson said, name-checking prospective future conference-mates. “Those games are highly competitive, it’s a great atmosphere and now there will be extra emphasis on those matchups. We have a great rivalry with Southeast Halifax, and Weldon and Northampton County also have great programs.”
For Sharrow, one benefit he sees to the proposed NCHSAA conference realignment is a reduction in travel times for his teams, as trips for Vance County athletes to cities like Pittsboro, Durham and Chapel Hill typically lasted between 45 to 75 minutes.
Although the new conference includes schools from Nash County and from Rocky Mount, its inclusion of the three Franklin County schools means the Vipers still wouldn’t be traveling as much, he said.
The NCHSAA will hear appeals and suggestions from schools up until Jan. 8 before unveiling their second proposal. While Sharrow is unsure of whether or not the 2A/3A Conference 17 lineup will stay the same, he is confident the NCHSAA will have everything sorted out by the time it sets its final proposal.
“I think there will be some complaints from schools around the state, particularly with rivalries that are now separated,” Sharrow said. “Some people are going to complain about the classification splits, but I liked what the NCHSAA is doing and I think that it’s going to work out for everybody.”
Sharrow affirmed that he intends to maintain Vance County’s relationships with Warren County and J.F. Webb and plans to include them as non-conference opponents up until the next four-year realignment cycle.