Save miles, money, add rivalries, fans with all-Horry region

With South Carolina schools struggling financially, here’s one easy way to cut costs from the state’s sports budgets while adding excitement to the high school sports courts and fields.

It’s time to add some common sense to the SCHSL’s realignment policy, which groups similarly sized schools together into regions. It seems more consideration is given to enrollment sizes than geography.

Despite the fact that South Carolina is one of the least populated states in the nation at about 4 million people, the SCHSL uses a four-classification system for its schools.

Much larger states like California, Florida and Texas use a five- or six-class system, allowing more schools of similar enrollments and with geographic rivals to play in the same league.

In Horry County, for instance, Carolina Forest and Conway are in Region VI-AAAA along with South Florence and West Florence and Sumter ( an average of more than one hour’s drive time per road game).

Meanwhile, just a few miles away from both schools, Myrtle Beach, North Myrtle Beach, Socastee and St. James play in Region VIII-AAA – perfectly natural rivals for the Panthers and the Tigers.

Instead, the rest of the six-team region is rounded out by Georgetown and Florence, making for some fairly long bus rides for the Grand Strand schools. With gas prices near $4 a gallon, that’s a lot of wasted fuel.

We’re not talking about just a couple of long bus trips for the football team, band, cherleaders and fans. We’re talking about the baseball, basketball, cross country, golf, softball, soccer, tennis, track, volleyball and wrestling teams, most of them including boys and girls and varsity and junior varsity squads.

By incorporating more classifications with smaller regions, the SCHSL almost guarantees each region is going to require some serious transportation. It means finding five or six schools of similar size in the nearest geographic cluster.

But by dropping to three classes, the SCHSL would have a broader range of enrollments to group together in the same region and more flexibility in pairing schools tat are closer in geography than size.

Imagine a Class AAA region featuring Carolina Forest, Conway, Myrtle Beach, North Myrtle Beach, Socastee and St. James – all Horry County schools, all within a 10 to 30-minute drive of on another, and all big rivals.

Sure, the Panthers and Tigers would have a slight advantage over the Seahawks, Chiefs, Braves and Sharks because of their slightly larger enrollments, but think of the cost savings and revenue increases.

How many Carolina Forest fans make the long drive to Sumter for a game, and vice versa. By replacing Sumter with St. James and it’s a whole other ballgame. Gate receipts would undoubtedly increase for all six schools and 17 sports.

This all-Horry County league (let’s call it the Independent Region of Horry) would allow more of our athletes and fans to enjoy the thrill of competing against neighbors, many of whom attend the same churches or play on the same rec and travel teams with one another.

The same could be done all over the state at a savings that would more than pay for itself in dollars and excitement at the cost of a slightly less level playing field.

It’s a financial and geographic no-brainer, which is perfect for the rocket surgeons who came up with the current system.

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