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The Franklin News-Post
P. O. Box 250
310 Main Street, SW
Rocky Mount, Virginia 24151
Fax: 540-483-8013

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School board to hire counsel to fight VHSL decision
Football team may not be able to fill game schedule
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Because of impending realignment and reclassification under the VHSL, Franklin County’s football team may have difficulty filling its schedule for the next two years. (Staff Photo by Steven Marsh)

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

By STEVEN MARSH - Sports Editor

The Franklin County School Board has opted to seek legal counsel to address Franklin County High School's current struggle with the Virginia High School League (VHSL) over its placement in the Piedmont District in a realignment and reclassification plan passed by the organization's Executive Committee last month.

FCHS principal Debora Decker briefed school board members Monday night on the difficulties that the

high school is having with the VHSL in regard to the realignment process, which public high schools in the commonwealth must undergo every two years.

She explained the inherent difficulties the school's placement in the Piedmont District will have with regard to future scheduling, especially in football.

FCHS officials preferred placement in the River Ridge District, Decker said, and the school's placement in that league met the approval of the VHSL's Realignment and Reclassification Committee (R&R), which took three votes on the matter.

But the Executive Committee opted to go against the R&R's decision in its meeting last month.

After Decker's presentation and discussion among board members, the school board voted unanimously to seek legal counsel in search of a remedy.

The Executive Committee's decision cannot be appealed, so a legal remedy may be FCHS's only avenue, Decker said.

"We could not appeal (the Executive Committee's) decision and the Piedmont District has no recourse. Whether they wanted us or not, we were being placed there,' Decker said. "(The VHSL) said the decision was final and there would be no further appeals to it.'

The main problem with the Piedmont District lies in scheduling for football and the gate receipts generated by five home games from a 10-game schedule, Decker said.

As of Monday, the Eagles have eight games confirmed for next season, including a trip to North Carolina to play a Greensboro high school.

FCHS has a tentative agreement to play Pulaski County, but a proposed game against Western Guilford (N.C.) will not occur, Decker said after her presentation.

"Football is the main fall sport, and it's our bread and butter as far as athletics is concerned," Decker said. "We are having to go to North Carolina to get games."

"The day the Executive Committee made its decision, William Fleming called and dropped us from its schedule," she added. "The schools in the Seminole District have full schedules, so they were not interested in playing us. We contacted Amherst County, we contacted E.C. Glass, we contacted Brookville and Heritage.'

The VHSL, of which FCHS is a member, plans to reclassify its public high schools from three classifications (A, AA, AAA) to six (1A, 2A, 3A, 4A, 5A, 6A) for the 2013-2014 school year. The current system dates to 1970, the first year of full integration of the state's public schools.

FCHS has been a Group AAA school since the inception of the current system. The school was a member of the Piedmont District in the 1960s and the Eagles football team shared the league championship twice during the head coaching tenure of the late Richard Foutz.

Under the new plan, FCHS and Patrick Henry-Roanoke, which has been placed in the River Ridge District, will be a part of a 6A conference, along with Richmond schools Varina, Thomas Dale, Cosby and James River-Midlothian.

FCHS's district placement -- since the 2001-2002 school year it has been a member of the Group AAA Western Valley District -- has been at issue since last November. At that time, the R&R Committee placed FCHS, PH and William Fleming, and Henry County schools Bassett and Magna Vista, both of which are in the Piedmont District, in a combination district, while WVD members GW Danville and Halifax County joined Martinsville, Tunstall and Patrick County in the Piedmont District.

In December, the new six classification alignment was proposed and in February, the R&R Committee placed FCHS in the Lynchburg-area Seminole District alongside current members Liberty-Bedford, Jefferson Forest, E.C. Glass, Heritage-Lynchburg, Brookville, Rustburg and Amherst County.

In February, the WVD was in effect dissolved. Alongside FCHS's move to the Seminole, PH was placed in the River Ridge, William Fleming was put in the Blue Ridge, and Danville and Halifax were sent to the Piedmont.

In a second R&R meeting that month, FCHS began its campaign for placement in the River Ridge, which is comprised of high schools from Roanoke, Montgomery and Pulaski counties.

Carroll County, a member of the Southwest District, which was marked for extinction like the WVD, has been placed in the River Ridge as a new member.

"As of February 27, we (FCHS) were placed in the River Ridge District and the R&R Committee as a whole voted to move forward with that recommendation,' Decker said.

It was then that a plan for combination district schools was devised that would not require schools that were separated by three classifications to play each other in any sport, Decker said.

Thus, using FCHS's placement in the Piedmont District as an example, league schools Bassett (4A), Danville (4A) and Halifax (5A) would be required to play FCHS, while Martinsville (2A), Tunstall (2A), Patrick County (2A) and Magna Vista (3A) would not, but they could play the Eagles if they opted to do so.

In R&R meetings in August and September, Carroll County and Pulaski County of the River Ridge District each appealed FCHS's placement their district. Those appeals were defeated, and after the September meeting, the R&R forwarded its endorsement of

FCHS's placement in the River Ridge to the Executive Committee, Decker said.

"(The R&R's) justification was that they were comfortable with their original decision to place Franklin County in the River Ridge, and there was no better district placement from this school,' Decker said, adding that she took this quote from the minutes of the R&R Committee's meeting.

On Sept. 19, Carroll County and Pulaski County made their appeals to the Executive Committee, and that committee opted not to follow the recommendation of the R&R Committee. The basis for the appeals presented by Carroll County and Pulaski County were with regard to travel, Decker said.

"(The Executive Committee) voted to remove us from the River Ridge,' Decker said.

After a round-about debate, one in which Decker said included an option that FCHS be designated as "an independent school division,' the only choices left were placement in the Seminole or the Piedmont.

"They allowed us to go into the Piedmont, which was our first choice over the Seminole,' Decker said.

She has yet to receive a justification from the VHSL concerning the Executive Committee's decision last month, she said.

"I've asked, in writing and verbally, the VHSL to provide us with specific information related to the last vote of the Executive Committee, the reason for their overturning the recommendation of the R&R Committee and the votes for the motions that failed and passed. I have yet to receive any of that information,' Decker said.

"I argued the point with the VHSL that schools should have the right to advocate for themselves to be placed in a certain district, but they shouldn't have the right to advocate to kick someone out just because they don't want them there.'

"In a conversation that I had with (VHSL Executive Director) Ken Tilley, he said he agreed with that, and that most likely they would be changing their bylaws to represent that."

"But that's not going to do us any good,' Decker added.

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