Several local schools have shuffled classifications and will have to travel more in the new football district alignment announced Monday by the Florida High School Athletic Association.
Plant, which is playing Saturday for its second Class 4A state title in three years, will move up to 5A, where national heavyweight St. Thomas Aquinas and Lakeland have long dominated. The Panthers join a 5A district with Tampa Bay Tech, Freedom and Riverview.
"We were already up there with Armwood and Booker T. Washington, with Dwyer," Plant coach Robert Weiner said. "I think any of those teams could beat any of these teams. We're okay with that. We love the competition wherever it is."
Bloomingdale, Brandon and Wharton have moved up a class to 6A, while Middleton moved down two classifications to 2A, joining a district with former 3A teams Jesuit and Robinson along with new schools Steinbrenner and Strawberry Crest.
Armwood and Hillsborough are in a district with newcomers Durant, East Bay, King, Leto and Sickles. Among the most interesting district is the new 2B-5, where locals Berkeley Prep and Tampa Catholic will play teams from Orlando (Lake Highland Prep and Lake Nona) as well as Cocoa Beach.
"I really don't understand the method to the madness," Tampa Catholic coach Bob Henriquez said. "I don't understand if they want to create more interest regionally, why they put two teams from the western part of the state with two teams from Central Florida with a team from the east side. We're already strained with our travel budget."
Schools have until Jan. 9 to submit written requests for reassignment.
Hubbard out at Middleton
Harry Hubbard, who built the Middleton football program from scratch when the school reopened in 2002, will not return as coach, athletic director Derrick Gaines confirmed.
Hubbard was 35-33 in seven seasons. The Tigers are coming off a 2-8 season.
Asked if he was given a reason for his dismissal, Hubbard wouldn't disclose specifics, only saying he was told by school administration it wanted to "go in a different direction."
"I'm at peace with it," he said. "I'm looking forward to what God has planned for me next."
A former assistant at Jefferson and Plant, Hubbard took the Tigers to the Class 4A region final in their second full varsity season, losing to eventual state champion Armwood. Though Middleton hasn't been in the playoff picture in recent years, Hubbard sent many players to college, notably South Carolina cornerback Stoney Woodson, Florida linebacker A.J. Jones and Florida State running back Carlton Jones.
"He was like another father to me," said Woodson, Middleton's first Division I athlete. "I'm shocked. He's a players' coach. He teaches you a lot about life."
Hubbard, who will remain at the school teaching driver's education, said most of his players know about his departure. Asked if he would coach again — and possibly apply for the opening at Blake, Middleton's rival — Hubbard didn't rule it out.
"I've still got some years left," he said. "I'm not ready to go out to pasture yet."