If you have ever driven round trip to Eustis, or traversed U.S. 19 from Spring Hill to Clearwater in the middle of rush hour, or steadied your steering wheel on a poorly lit one-lane road to Lake Wales at 11 p.m., then you can understand the collective groan that went up from some high school football coaches across Tampa Bay on Monday.
It sounded eerily like the groan you may have heard two years ago … and the two years before that.
"I love it," Hillsborough coach Earl Garcia said. "I love that they change it every two years. I love the variety.''
Garcia is right; the Florida High School Athletic Association certainly spices things up with realignment, and this year is no exception.
While things will probably change after some formal complaints (schools have until Jan. 9 to submit requests for reassignment), for now, we're already spotting the winners and losers in the latest shuffle.
Middleton: The Tigers were region finalists in 2004, and after a round of redistricting, they ended up in a district with Armwood and Hillsborough. Despite a 7-3 record in 2005, they didn't make the playoffs. Oh, then Tampa Bay Tech got good.
A 2-8 season cost coach Harry Hubbard his job, but the new coach will get to play in a Class 2A-5 district that includes two first-year schools (Steinbrenner and Strawberry Crest), Lennard, Robinson and Jesuit. Certainly, the Tigers can be expected to immediately compete for a district title.
Tarpon Springs: The Spongers lose their toughest competition from last year — Land O'Lakes and Springstead — and replace them with Wiregrass Ranch, which is 2-18. With Ridgewood and River Ridge rounding out the 4A-6 district, the Spongers should be playoff-bound until the next realignment. (And really, feel free to add Ridgewood to your list of playoff teams the next two years.)
St. Petersburg: The Green Devils ditch Largo and Gibbs and add Northeast in 5A-9, a trade they will take any day. Coach Joe Fabrizio put some nice pieces in place this year as the Green Devils made the playoffs. With additional help from redistricting, they should stand a great chance of making the postseason a second straight year for the first time since 1984-85.
Central: The good news for the Bears is their new district (3A-6) has only three other schools.
The bad news? Those schools are Gainesville, Lecanto and West Port. Try finding a common thread among those schools. Better yet, a common road.
So, Bears, try repeating this on those long bus rides: Lecanto is 1-34 in its past 35, West Port was 2-8 the past two seasons, Gainesville hasn't won a playoff game since 1998.
Pasco and Wesley Chapel: Can you say "appeal"?
Both schools are expected to beg out of their assignments, and for good reason.
Both were placed in a district that includes Anclote, Avon Park, Crystal River, Eustis, Lake Wales, South Sumter and Tavares. Heck, even a trip to first-year Anclote (on the Pasco-Pinellas border in Holiday) is going to get you 100 miles round trip. That will seem like a brisk walk around the block after the nearly three-hour round trips to Avon Park and Eustis.
Wharton: Not only did Wharton get moved up to Class 6A, its closest district rival is at least 30 minutes away (closer to 50 if you count New Tampa's notorious Friday evening traffic).
And if getting that big tilt against Brandon or Bloomingdale doesn't do it for you, how about these two facts:
Wharton to North Port is 95 miles. Wharton to Sarasota is 70 miles. Ick.
Lakewood: Am I the only one excited by the Spoto-Lakewood showdown next season?
Really? The only one?
The Spartans are leaving behind a district that included Bradenton Southeast and rivals Northeast and Boca Ciega for one that includes Blake, Jefferson and Spoto (as well as Osceola).
But if they ask to play up a class, the Spartans could land in what could be the toughest district in Tampa Bay with Largo, Gibbs, Dunedin and Bogie.
Springstead: Left a district that included Pasco and Hernando county rivals for one made up of Clearwater, Countryside, Palm Harbor University and East Lake.
Two words: U.S. and 19.
St. Petersburg Catholic: Why would the FHSAA put it in 2B-6 with three schools from Fort Myers, Clewiston, Lake Placid and Sarasota Booker when it could have been in District 5 with Clearwater Central Catholic, Tampa Catholic and Berkeley Prep?
John C. Cotey can be reached at [email protected] For the complete district breakdown of all our area teams, visit blogs. tampabay.com/preps.