By Jamie Wachter / Sports Editor
The Meridian Star
After a four-year trip back to the South, West Lauderdale is making its second trip North.
When the Mississippi High School Activities Association released its 2013-15 reclassification Friday, the Knights were moving from the familiar home of Division 5-4A to return to Division 4-4A. West is not alone among local teams on the move, as Kemper County will be making its first trip to the North half and Division 4-3A. Also, Newton is returning to Class 2A and the Tigers are joining Division 5-2A as are Clarkdale and Enterprise.
“We figured that was going to be the case,” West football coach Stan McCain said. “We've been up there before and other than travel, it's really no different. The travel, there will be a little bit more but we've played there before.”
In the return to Division 4-4A, where West resided from 2005-2008, the Knights will play alongside Caledonia, Houston, Kosciusko, Leake Central and Noxubee County. Noxubee, Kosy and Caledonia all were part of the division in 2007 and 2008. During that four-year span in the North, West made the playoffs every season and won the division title that first year with an unbeaten record until falling in the third round of the playoffs.
And while the Knights will be playing in a new division, McCain is hopeful West can maintain its rivalries with Northeast Lauderdale and Newton County during the non-division portion of the schedule.
“That's our goal,” he said. “A lot of teams have already had their non-division schedules done, but we kept a couple open in case we did move. But we hope we can keep those games.”
One game that will be interesting and the Knights will definitely play will be against the Whippets and Kosciusko. After the Knights' last stint in the North, McCain stayed there himself as he left West for the Kosy job. He coached the Whippets for three years prior to returning to the West helm this past season.
“That will be interesting but hopefully not too interesting,” McCain said. “It's about the kids, but yeah I do know some of the folks up there and the kids.”
One team that won't know many of its new neighbors will be the Wildcats of Kemper County. Since the consolidation of East and West Kemper in 1989, the Wildcats have never played in the North. That will now end as KC joins Aberdeen, Louisville, Nettleton, South Pontotoc and Winona in Division 4-3A. The only team the Wildcats have played previously is Louisville, which won handily the past two seasons.
One team that Kemper won't be leaving behind in Division 5-3A is Newton, which is returning to Division 5-2A after a two-year stint up a class. The Tigers will be joined by former divisionmates Union, Lake and Scott Central in 5-2A as well as Clarkdale and Enterprise. It is a return that is welcomed by coach Chris Gale.
“I really feel that the teams at the top of the 2A division will be better than the teams at the top of the 3A division, outside of Philadelphia,” Gale said. “But I feel we'll be stronger as well.
“We've got a year in now and the kids will have some continuity and that'll help.”
And even with a competitive division, Gale and the Tigers are most looking forward to a division full of local rivals again.
“You have Union in our county,” he said. “And Scott Central is right down the road as is Lake.
“My players will have kinfolk on three of the other teams. So in addition to Enterprise and Clarkdale, we've got three rivals with us.”
One team that will be losing a longtime rival in the current reshuffling is Meridian. In addition to Natchez – which dropped to Class 5A – moving out of Region 3-6A, so did the Wildcats' historical rival in Hattiesburg as the Tigers head to Region 4-6A. Meridian will still be joined by Brandon, Oak Grove, Petal, Terry and Forest Hill with Jim Hill returning along with Provine as both climb into Class 6A.
Even with Hattiesburg leaving the division, MHS football coach Larry Weems hopes the two can keep the rivalry kindled.
“Obviously, I hope that is something we can work out,” he said. “I'd be very disappointed if we couldn't. When I came here in 1975 that was someone we played and we've played ever since and certainly a long time before as well.”
Other local divisions include Neshoba Central in Region 2-5A where Canton, Ridgeland, Callaway and Lanier all return but also now includes Germantown, Pearl and Vicksburg.
With the defection of West Lauderdale as well as Laurel moving into Class 5A, Division 5-4A now includes Forrest County AHS and state finalist Greene County alongside Northeast Lauderdale, Newton County, Quitman and Northeast Jones.
And in Division 5-3A, Forest and Raleigh replace Newton and Kemper County alongside Southeast Lauderdale, Choctaw Central, Philadelphia and Heidelberg.