The 1996 state champion Wheaton High School football team was in the postseason conversation this fall for the first time in recent history.
Under first year coach Ernest Williams the current Class 2A Knights (4-6) rebounded from a 1-9 season and were on the cusp of the 2A West Region’s top four.
Though this fall marked a big step forward for a program that has not achieved a winning record since its 6-4 run in 2006, the Knights have an even harder road ahead of them in the next two years.
As it does every two years, the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association Classification Committee met Nov. 1 to name new classification groupings for schools statewide and recommend region alignments for 2013-15.
Final decisions regarding those proposals will be made at the December MPSSAA Board of Control meeting, according to the organization’s website.
Wheaton was the only Montgomery County Public School affected by this year’s reclassification. Student enrollment as of the cutoff date, Sept. 30, was 1,039 students, which bumped it up to Class 3A status.
According to the proposed alignment, Wheaton will compete in the Class 3A West Region alongside other county programs, Damascus, Seneca Valley and Watkins Mill and Einstein and several schools from Frederick County.
Damascus barely made the 3A cutoff with 964 students.
“Well it just made our road a lot tougher, that’s for sure. Looking at the new region, we could possibly have three 10-0 teams. And in a situation like that, you can have another two or three that are still 9-1,” Williams said.
MPSSAA executive director Ned Sparks said while the classification rulings are cut and dry — schools’ enrollment numbers statewide are added up and divided into quarters — much thought goes into region alignment.
“We try to cluster the schools as best we can numerically, geographically and also take into consideration who their competition is in the regular season. It’s pretty easy to do a region in an area that is self-contained but some regions have schools that are 160 miles apart,” Sparks said.
A new proposal to divide each region into two sections will alleviate some travel issues, Sparks added.
Each section will have two seeds and the winner of each group will play in the region championship.
This will mostly affect county schools such as James H. Blake, Sherwood, Paint Branch and Springbrook, which play in the 4A North against teams from Baltimore County and the city of Baltimore.
If the proposal is accepted, those four schools and nearby Howard High of Howard County will comprise one section and extensive travel will only be necessary for teams that make it to the region final.
But it will make for fairly lopsided sections as far as competition in the all-Montgomery 4A West in some sports with all Potomac and Rockville schools lumped together in Section I and Gaithersburg, Clarksburg and Germantown in the other.
Fifth year Wheaton boys basketball coach Sharief Hashim said the Knights will only be affected come playoff time because as a member of the county’s 3A/2A East division they’ve consistently played a schedule of predominantly 3A and 4A opponents.
That goes for most of the school’s sports, including the Knights girls soccer program that won three games this season after four winless campaigns.
William “Duke” Beattie, MCPS director of systemwide athletics, said there are no restrictions as far as out-of-county competitions. Teams are only limited by the MPSSAA to a certain number of games. They have to play all division opponents. Wheaton and Poolesville football, which reached the postseason this fall for the first time since 2005, played several out-of-county opponents this season.
“We’re typically going to have to look out of county to play schools our size,” Poolesville football coach Will Gant said. “A lot of it is a numbers game. Last year I had 32 kids on the varsity roster, this year we’re up to 36. It’s difficult for us to compete [with bigger schools in Montgomery County]. I had practices last season with 17 kids.”
Teams’ schedules are produced on a biennual basis to go along with reclassification and realignment by Beattie’s office.
As the fall season comes to a close, forms were sent out this week to every school in the county to gather information from coaches and athletic directors regarding scheduling requests.
Official division alignment within the county, which Beattie said is largely done according to school size, geography and rivalries, and season schedules will be revealed this summer.
Hashim and Williams agreed that while Wheaton’s sports teams will have a challenge ahead of them in 2013-14, the move up to 3A will benefit the Knights in the long run.
“We are in the Downcounty Consortium, where kids chose where they want to go. It makes a difference to say you’re 3A. It sounds better to a kid who is 13 or 14 years old to say he is playing for 3A, I think it will help draw kids into our building and athletic programs,” Hashim said.