AISA’s application to join the NFHS could completely change local sports and rivalries

Published 11:08 am Saturday, February 3, 2024

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High school sports in Alabama could be in for some major shakeups as the AISA is currently in the process of attempting to join the NFHS. This would allow private schools within the AISA to compete against public schools in all sports. 

This is the third time in the past decade that the AISA has attempted to join the NFHS. The Alabama High School Athletic Association serves as the governing body in Alabama, and the central board of the AHSAA has denied the AISA’s application each time in the past. 

Now, the central board is set to meet in April to discuss the AISA’s application. The NFHS will then review the application in June. 

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Springwood and Chambers Academy are the only two teams in Chambers Academy in the AISA and both athletic programs could be affected in major ways by the opportunity to play public schools. 

The main positive initially for both public and private schools locally would be the ability to cut some of the travel out of their schedule. 

Right now, Springwood, Chambers County and public schools in Chambers County are traveling to Montgomery, Eufaula and even across the Georgia state line to play non-region games, just to fill out a schedule across all sports. 

“I think the positives definitely would be that it would open up cross-play,” Chambers Academy athletic director Jason Allen said. “We could play schools closer to us at the high school level, but even more importantly at the junior high level. It would cut down on travel tremendously.” 

There have always been several within the AHSAA and AISA that have been against this change in the past. Now, Roddie Beck and Michael McLendon are helping to lead the charge within the AISA along with Macon East football coach Glynn Lott. 

The main sticking point within the AISA in the past has been that the organization still wants to remain its own entity. Teams that remain in the AISA still want to keep playing for their own championships and hold their own traditions. 

However, over the past few years, several schools in the AISA have made the move to AHSAA. With fewer schools, AISA schools have had to travel more in every sport. 

“We’ve had several schools join the Alabama High School Athletic Association and the main reason is travel I would think,” Springwood athletic director Joey Burch said. “If we were able to keep our own identity, play our own championships and keep the traditions that the AISA has, and then be allowed to play local schools for regular season games. I think it would be a benefit for public schools and AISA schools.” 

Travel is one of the key benefits of the AISA joining the NFHS, but the move could also increase local support for athletic programs. 

Local rivalries have always been a major part of sports in the South. Rivalries in Chambers County are bound to see some major changes over the next several years as LaFayette and Valley consolidate into one school. 

Chambers Academy and Springwood could step in and save rivalries within Chambers County. With Springwood playing 8-man football, it is unlikely that the Wildcats could play local schools on the gridiron, but Springwood has comparable size in every other sport. 

Chambers Academy would have the opportunity to create rivalries across all sports with schools like LaFayette, Lanett, Beulah and Wadley. 

“I think it would be great for our community,” Allen said. “Unfortunately LaFayette is going to be no more in a couple of years, but over the years we would’ve loved to have a rivalry with LaFayette. I think there are a lot of schools that would be comparable to our size as far as athletes they’re putting on the field or court that would be a good matchup for us.” 

Basketball in Chambers County is as important as anywhere else in the state. Springwood’s basketball team finished the regular season ranked as the no. 2 team in the AISA.

The Wildcats have faced several teams this season repeatedly due to a lack of other options, and the team has faced several schools across state lines. If the AISA joined the NFHS, Springwood would be interested in facing teams like Valley, LaFayette and Lanett on the hardwood. 

“It would help basketball because we’re in the region tournament right now and we played Glenwood for the third time,” Burch said. “We’re going to play Valiant Cross for the third time. Then, we’ll meet up again in the playoffs. The repetitiveness of playing these schools over and over again, I think it would be refreshing for us to be able to branch out and play some of these public schools.” 

Saving local rivalries would not only increase public support for local athletic programs, but it would also increase the amount of cash flow for each school. 

Springwood, Chambers Academy and public schools in Chambers County have always brought big crowds to games. With these schools facing each other, those crowds along with ticket and concession sales would benefit all involved. 

“We would bring big crowds to them, and I think it would be a benefit financially for both schools involved,” Burch said. “I think you need those local rivalries. People get excited about it.” 

Springwood’s spring sports would be the most affected by this change, with soccer being the main beneficiary. 

“I think the biggest benefit for us here at Springwood would be our soccer programs,” Burch said. “There are very few soccer-playing schools in the AISA. We go across state lines, and we do play Georgia public and private schools.”
The AHSAA has stopped the AISA’s application in the past, with recruiting and transfer rules always being an issue. However, playing the private schools within the AISA would have no effect on region standing or the AHSAA playoffs. Several private schools, like Glenwood and Lee-Scott, have already joined the AHSAA which would have larger effects on AHSAA teams than regular season matchups. 

“Coming from a public school background, I think recruiting would be the concern,” Burch said. “Players can come right now and be immediately eligible to come play for us from a public school. I think that’s been the sticking point. As long as we’re not competing against some of those schools in the playoffs, like some of the private schools are that joined the AHSAA, I don’t think it should matter to them.” 

There are several positives and few negatives for private schools and public schools facing each other locally and across the state. Furthermore, there is still the aspect of choice. 

“They don’t have to play us,” Allen said. “We don’t have to play other schools, it would just give us that option. I think it would be an option that some schools would want to embrace.” 

If the AISA joined the NFHS, it would also give those private schools more of an opportunity to prove themselves. There have always been recruiters and others across the state who believe that the AISA is a lower level of competition. Facing private schools gives the AISA the opportunity to completely dispel this belief. 

 “I think it would help because then the detractors that say we don’t play as good of competition because there are not as many schools would not have that excuse anymore,” Allen said. “It would allow our players to play against any athlete from all across the state.” 

The exposure across all sports would help local athletes at every level get more opportunities to play at the next level, and it would give more opportunities for the athletic programs as a whole.