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Generals gain reprieve from district switch

By Jeremy Stafford - jstafford@nvdaily.com

Stonewall Jackson will stay; Central and Sherando will go -- at least for now.

According to a press release issued by the Virginia High School League on Tuesday, the Redistricting and Reclassification Committee heard modification requests from the three schools regarding the VHSL's alignment plan for the 2011-12 and 2012-13 school years.

The proposed alignment plan, which was released by the committee on Nov. 17, had Stonewall Jackson moving from the Shenandoah District to the Bull Run District. Central, then, would move from the Group A, Region B, Shenandoah District to the Group AA, Region 2, Northwestern District, thus replacing Sherando, which would move from the Group AA, Region 2, Northwestern District to the Group AAA, Northwest Region, Cedar Run District.

All three schools submitted modification requests to the committee, and only Stonewall Jackson's request was accepted. Sherando and Central have until March 17 to submit an appeal to the modified proposal, and would then present their cases to the committee on April 19.

For Generals soccer coach Nate Hissong, the request acceptance is a major relief.

"It maintains a lot of the long-standing rivalries we've had over the past few years," he said of remaining in the Shenandoah District. "I think the geography would [otherwise] make for some long nights for the kids, particularly for sports like soccer, where they have doubleheaders ... [and with] two hours travel time, that's pretty rough."

Had Stonewall Jackson moved to the Bull Run, the school's closest district foe would be Strasburg, which is about 33 miles north of Quicksburg. Trips to Clarke County, George Mason, Madison County and Manassas Park would all require well over an hour's commute.

Sherando's move to Group AAA, as well as Central's move to Group AA, is more closely related to the school's student body. According to the Nov. 17 proposed alignment plan, Sherando was the largest Northwestern District school with 1,571 students. James Wood, the second largest school in the district, had only 1,292 students. In the Cedar Run District, Sherando will be the smallest of six schools, not including Patriot High School, which is projected to open in Prince William County in 2011.

At a public hearing to be held on Feb. 4, a proposal will be made to consider a spot rezoning of the Frederick County Public Schools attendance boundaries in an attempt to reduce the population at Sherando. Though the move does not guarantee Sherando will remain in Group AA, it would at least help reduce overcrowding at the school.

As was the case with Stonewall Jackson, the reclassification of Sherando raises geographical problems as far as traveling for road games. In the Cedar Run District, Sherando will compete with Broad Run and Freedom, of Loudoun County, as well as Stonewall Jackson and Osbourn of Manassas. Battlefield, of Haymarket, will also be in the district.

No Sherando coaches or administrators could be reached for comment.

Central's case is an unusual one.

As a school that resides comfortably between the Group A schools of the Shenandoah District and the Group AA schools of the Northwestern District, Central's reclassification woes extend beyond travel expenses. In 2009, Central moved down to Group A following a four-year stint at Group AA -- the move back up will not only toss the Falcons into competition with schools nearly twice its size, but it will also reinforce a notion within the school that Central lacks an identity.

"It's also [about] trying to stay somewhere, you know?" Central athletic director Susan Flemming said. "Because right now we're back and forth and that's really rough.

"I mean, we feel like we don't have a home anywhere."

Flemming said that scheduling is especially difficult when dancing between classifications, as scheduling agreements are often made as two-year deals. Once Central moves up to Group AA, where it will have to fit a district's worth of schools into its 2011 schedule, it becomes difficult to honor old agreements.

Competing against much larger Group AA schools, which boast a wider selection of athletes than Central (761 students) does, means the Falcons will likely have a rough time keeping up in athletics.

"Again, it's not all just about winning," Flemming said, "but when you get beaten night after night by 20 and 30 points, and then you have people thinking, 'Well, should I be playing,' -- you don't get the kids coming out [for sports] that should come out."

When asked if Central might consider spot rezoning, as Sherando is, Flemming said the decision to alter attendance boundaries is made by the School Board, not by the high school. She also mentioned that rezoning is an unlikely fix, since a realignment of Shenandoah County's attendance boundaries would also affect the boundaries of the elementary schools which feed into Central.

With W. W. Robinson Elementary School being one of the largest in the area, Flemming explained, it would be difficult for other elementary schools to take on the redistributed flow.


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