If nothing else, the state's new prep football district assignments are polarizing: you either love them (if, say, you're Land O'Lakes) or loathe them (if, say, you're Pasco or Wesley Chapel). Before Jan. 9, the last day teams may appeal their assignment, we see a handful of local schools pleading with the FHSAA to be moved to a different district, or even a different classification altogether. But for now, the districts are what they are — ideal specimens for thorough dissection. As a refresher, we've provided the new assignments. As entertainment, we've offered some perspective on them.
2009 football districts
Class 5A-8: Clearwater, Countryside, East Lake, Palm Harbor University, Springstead
Class 4A-5: Central, Gainesville, Lecanto, Ocala West Port
Class 4A-6: Ridgewood, River Ridge, Tarpon Springs, Wiregrass Ranch
Class 3A-6: Citrus, Hernando, Leesburg, Nature Coast
Class 3A-7: Gulf, Hudson, Land O'Lakes, Mitchell, Sunlake, Zephyrhills
Class 2A-4: Anclote (new), Avon Park, Crystal River, Eustis, Lake Wales, Pasco, South Sumter, Tavares, Wesley Chapel
Set your GPS …
Some downright dreadful district road trips
Anclote at Avon Park. A 119-mile excursion … one way. Projected travel time is 21/2 hours.
Springstead at Clearwater. Think driving on U.S. 19 is stressful? Now imagine doing it during the late-afternoon rush hour on a Friday.
Wesley Chapel at Tavares. After heading east off I-75 somewhere around Sumter County, the directions call for a series of turns and merges onto one rural thoroughfare after another. This game will set a record for most fans getting lost.
Central at Gainesville. One way, it's 108 miles, but at least most of it's interstate.
Matchups we'll miss
Nature Coast vs. Pasco. We hardly knew ye! The Sharks can claim dominance after taking both games in the series, including this year's 18-17 victory for the ages on a two-point conversion. This had all the makings of one of those throwback rivalries. Should the new districts stick, there's almost zero chance of a nondistrict matchup between the Sharks and Pirates. Pasco will never give up playing Zephyrhills, and would likely feel pressured to keep Land O'Lakes or Hernando on the schedule.
Pasco vs. South Sumter. The Pirates and Raiders had hoped to revive this natural geographic rivalry regardless of district assignment. Hey, the FHSAA simply did the scheduling for them.
If this sticks …
• Central can look forward to playing in a district where opponents combined for a 2008 record of 8-25. Of course, Ocala West Port (2-8) played teams such as Ocala Trinity Catholic, Williston and North Marion while Gainesville had its hands full with Orange Park and Fleming Island.
• Hernando still could struggle to make the playoffs. Nature Coast will be strong again in 2009 and Leesburg has reached the playoffs four times this decade.
• Pasco could struggle to even reach the playoffs. South Sumter is a small-school dynasty, and Lake Wales' Rod Shafer — who started the program at NAIA Webber International — is the best coach in Polk County not named Bill Castle.
• River Ridge has a great chance of ending its 11-year playoff drought.
… Not that it will stick
Once all appeals are heard, this is how we see the districts ultimately looking:
Class 4A-6: Central, Ridgewood, River Ridge, Tarpon Springs, Wiregrass Ranch
Class 3A-6: Citrus, Hernando, Leesburg, Pasco, Nature Coast, Wesley Chapel
Class 3A-7: Anclote, Gulf, Hudson, Land O'Lakes, Mitchell, Sunlake, Zephyrhills