Clermont East Ridge coach Bud O'Hara doesn't want to hear it. He knows his team is not welcome in Class 4A, District 6 with schools such as Springstead and Central. He has read the other coaches' quotes in the newspaper, suggesting the Knights pick on someone their own size. He can wearily recite the 3-year-old school's enrollment numbers, which are good figures to know when you're constantly fielding the same question.
There were 2,300 students enrolled at East Ridge in 2003. To be in Class 4A in football, a school must have no less than 1,717 and no more than 2,049 students.
"We just jumped," O'Hara said. "We got a bunch of move-ins, about 700 ninth-graders. It's just exploded."
When East Ridge joined the FHSAA in 2002, which affected the following two-year cycle, it accurately was classified as a 4A school with 1,823 students. It grew enough to get bumped to 5A, but a stipulation in FHSAA rules allowed the Knights to stay in 4A in football. East Ridge is 5A in other sports such as basketball, baseball and soccer.
"I know several schools were upset with this situation," FHSAA administrator Jack Watford said. "But if you write a rule, you can't write it so it uniquely applies to each situation. You have to write a blanket rule for everybody."
Normally, none of this would cause this much protest, since new teams typically take time to cause much of a threat. But East Ridge is not a normal third-year team. Last season, the Knights were district champions and went 10-2, losing in the second round of playoffs to eventual state finalist Lake Gibson.
Tonight, Central (2-1) will travel to play the Knights (3-0), and for the second year, coach John Wilkinson is not thrilled with it. If the Bears lose, they will have to hope for perfect 4A-6 play for the rest of the season and for the rest of the district teams to fall apart. "Basically, we won't control our own destiny if we lose," Central quarterback Shane Collard said.
The Knights may look and play much like a 5A team, but they're not perfect, and the Bears have a shot at cracking the district beast. East Ridge graduated its first senior class last year, losing a lot of its defensive power. One of the Knights' top running backs, Timmy Dye, broke his collarbone in the preseason classic.
Last season, the Knights beat the Bears 20-16 in a game that came down to the final 10 minutes. Wilkinson knows East Ridge is beatable. That didn't stop him from calling the FHSAA last year and protesting East Ridge's placement. He's all for good competition, but in this case, it just isn't fair. "They're tough," Wilkinson said. "But what are you going to do?"
CENTRAL VS. EAST RIDGE: WHO HAS THE EDGE?
SCHOOL ENROLLMENT: Central, 1,788; East Ridge, 2,300. Edge: East Ridge.
MASCOT: Central, Bears; East Ridge, Knights. Edge: Central.
COLORS: Central, blue & silver; East Ridge, black & gold. Edge: Central.
CLOSEST DAIRY QUEEN: Central, 9 miles; East Ridge, 3. Edge: East Ridge.
BEST SUPERHERO-LIKE NAME ON TEAM: Central, Casey Cane. East Ridge, Steve Batman. Edge: Even.
STADIUM NAME: Central, The Bears Den. East Ridge, The East Ridge High School Stadium. Edge: Central.
OVERALL EDGE: Central.