By Rob Patrick
It’s official now, once and for all.
Or at least for the[more] next two years.
Unless someone else appeals to the Arkansas Activities Association within the next 20 days, Bryant High School will be a member of the 7A/6A-South Conference in all sports/activities starting with the 2012-13 school year.
An appeal to place all 6A schools in two conferences regardless of travel distance and all 7A schools in two different conferences regardless of travel considerations failed to get the 2/3 majority needed to pass. Siloam Springs, which will now be the lone 6A team in the powerhouse West conference had made the appeal which came up two votes short of passing, garnering 20 of the 33 votes.
The Hornets, who were set to play in the South in all other sports/activities regardless of the appeal, will be the lone Class 7A level school in the otherwise 6A league. Bryant’s enrollment figures for the reclassification period is listed at 1,683, right at 600 more students than the largest South entries.
Siloam Springs, meanwhile, with an enrollment of 853, is assigned to league in which the schools range for Bentonville at 2,591 to Van Buren at 1,290.
The assignment puts in jeopardy the season-opening football festival that’s become known as the Salt Bowl, pitting the Hornets against the longtime rival Benton Panthers at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock — an event that has drawn some of the largest crowds ever for a high school football game. Bryant has tentative plans to continue rivalries with Little Rock Catholic and Little Rock Central in weeks two and three next fall but has left the opening date in flux in hopes of working out an arrangement that would continue the Salt Bowl in its current form.
Conference games normally begin in the fourth week of the season. If Bryant and Benton can get another pair of conference foes from another league to move their conference game to the first week of the season, that would provide opponents for Bryant and Benton in the week slotted for their conference contest.
Though it’s not yet official, it figures that when the post-season begins in any sport, Bryant will be slotted into the West for seeding taking the place of Siloam Springs which will compete at the 6A level in the post-season.
A complex system of points and power ratings will be continue to be used to determine seeding for State tournaments and playoffs. Currently, there are two leagues with mixed membership. With the realignment, all four leagues involving the largest 32 schools will be a mix of 7A and 6A schools to some extent.
It’ll be a return of sorts for Bryant, which was a long-time member of the South before being assigned to the Central after the 2001-02 cycle. In many sports, Bryant teams have continued to compete with South teams including Benton. In 2001, the South also included current members Sheridan, El Dorado, Pine Bluff, Texarkana, and Lake Hamilton. Camden Fairview has since moved down in classification. It was replaced by Little Rock J.A. Fair.
Bryant currently competes in the Central Conference against 7A schools Cabot, Conway, Little Rock Catholic, Little Rock Central, North Little Rock and Van Buren (which is 6A during the current cycle but will be returning to the 7A level next year). Russellville, a 6A school, also competes in the Central.
In the new alignment (set for a two-year cycle) will have Conway and Catholic/Mount St. Mary and Russellville remaining in the Central with the addition of Fort Smith Northside, Fort Smith Southside, Greenwood, Little Rock Hall and Little Rock Parkview.
The revised East conference will retain Jonesboro, Marion, Mountain Home, Searcy and West Memphis, while adding Cabot, Little Rock Central and North Little Rock.
Along with Siloam Springs, Bentonville and Van Buren, the West includes holdovers Fayetteville, Rogers, Rogers Heritage, Springdale and Springdale Har-Ber.