Consolidation would mean end of LaFayette-Valley rivalry
VALLEY — The Valley High School gymnasium was packed last week for the Rams’ home basketball game against area rival LaFayette. The schools sit less than 20 miles apart and share Chambers County, so many of the students know each other well and grew up together.
“We’re a very close-knit community,” said Terrence Bennett Sr, a former assistant basketball coach at LaFayette High and a parent of two current Valley High students. “We get to see people we normally see when we are out shopping, or are dining somewhere. It brings us together, and takes us away for a couple of hours from whatever we’ve got going on in our lives. It’s a good and friendly competition. It’s nothing bitter. It is a rivalry, but it’s nothing like Auburn-Alabama where you have some hatred. It’s all love, but at the end of the day, Valley wants to win, LaFayette wants to win so they put all of it on the line, and on the court to bring excitement to the area.”
It’s a similar sight for any sporting event that features two teams from the Greater Valley Area. The only difference was, this particular matchup may not exist in a few years.
Last month, the Chambers County Board of Education asked the community for its thoughts on potentially consolidating LaFayette and Valley into one Chambers County High School.
The community has taken a survey and community meetings have been held, but at this point, discussions have only been about the general idea of consolidation. There’s a chance it never happens and many questions still have to be answered in order for it to happen.
However, if the two schools did become one school in the future, it would mean the end of a long-standing rivalry.
According to the Alabama High School Football History website — which is an unofficial database of high school football programs — the schools met as far back as 1928 on the gridiron. The teams haven’t played in football in 11 years in an official game, but regularly play in other sports, like basketball.
Both teams participate in athletics through the Alabama High School Athletic Association. In terms of size, LaFayette is in the middle of the pack in 2A while Valley is the seventh largest 5A school, according to the 2018-2020 enrollment numbers the AHSAA used to classify teams.
Based on those enrollment numbers, a consolidated high school would currently be big enough to participate in 6A athletics. Those numbers are re-evaluated every two years when the AHSAA redoes its classifications, so depending on when and if a consolidation occurs those numbers could look much different.
“If you combine those [schools], that’s going to strengthen all of the athletic teams because of the talent spread throughout the county,” Bennett said. “I’m all for it, especially it’s going to enrich our county educationally. I’m all for it because we need a confidence boost for our kids here. There’s so much that goes on, so many distractions, but if we could just bring each other together in perfect harmony, that would be great.”
Also in attendance at last week’s LaFayette and Valley basketball game was LaFayette principal Don Turner. Turner sported a black-and-gold hat to go with his LaFayette letterman-style jacket at the game. He enjoyed watching the Bulldogs defeat the Rams in both varsity games, but he understands consolidation would mean the end of the rivalry.
“It means a lot,” Turner said. “It has always been a tradition. The teams always played hard, and showed great sportsmanship being right here in the same county. A lot of tradition will be lost, but we’ve got to look at the big picture of what’s best for the kids, and what’s beneficial for them.”