High School Sports

Legion’s SCHSL membership accepted, makes 2020-21 realignment even more interesting

Legion Collegiate Academy was made to sweat a bit, but was ultimately accepted into the South Carolina High School League Wednesday morning.

The SCHSL’s appellate committee approved Legion’s appeal, after the Rock Hill charter school’s initial attempt to join the league was tabled, then later denied, by the SCHSL Executive Committee. Legion athletic director Strait Herron said that the original membership request received nine “no” votes from the Executive Committee in April, but no reasoning for why was ever offered to him or Legion officials.

Legion is the third public charter school operated by Pinnacle Charter Schools to open in South Carolina. The other two, Gray Collegiate and Oceanside Collegiate, are already SCHSL members.

“It’s just disappointing that people don’t look at it and say, ‘hey, here’s another public charter school,’” said Herron.

Herron said that Legion was already speaking with its legal counsel about next steps if the appeal was unsuccessful. Legal action proved unnecessary because the appellate committee, which consists of seven South Carolina citizens, reached its “yes” verdict in about 20 minutes, according to Herron.

“We knew once it got to the appellate group that we were gonna get in,” he said.

Still, that hardly assuaged Herron’s annoyance with the process. He said that the SCHSL central office understood that Legion’s status as a public charter school meant it should be accepted as an SCHSL member school, as did the appellate panel. But Herron said the Executive Committee’s ignorance caused Legion’s delay in joining the state’s high school sports governing body.

Rock Hill High principal Ozzie Ahl heads the Executive Committee, which also includes South Pointe principal Marty Conner.

Legion, which opens in Rock Hill this coming fall, will spend a transition year in the high school sports wilderness before joining the SCHSL in 2020-21, when the organization realigns its member schools.

Could be plenty of local movement in 2020-21 realignment

That 2020-21 realignment will be a very interesting one for the 15 schools in The Herald’s coverage area.

This is clear: Clover, Rock Hill and Northwestern will be 5A schools again.

Fort Mill was the 12th biggest school in the state, according to the attendance numbers used for the 2018-20 realignment, and athletic director Dwayne Hartsoe is confident the Yellow Jackets will also remain in 5A, despite losing students this coming school year. Hartsoe said Fort Mill will actually lose more students to Nation Ford than Catawba Ridge, which opens this fall, because of the redrawing of school attendance zones. About 200 students will switch to Nation Ford, with 120 going to Catawba Ridge.

Nation Ford was the 21st largest school in 2018 and should also probably stay in 5A.

Check out 2018-20 attendance numbers used during the SCHSL’s last realignment

York will be an interesting school to watch. The Cougars were the biggest school in the 4A classification these last two years, and they could easily end up in 5A next time around, where they would easily slot into Region 3-5A with Rock Hill, Northwestern, Clover, Nation Ford and Fort Mill. York was originally placed in 5A during the 2018-20 realignment, lost its appeal, appealed that appeal, and was finally permitted to remain in the 4A classification.

South Pointe (66th biggest) and Lancaster (62nd) should fall safely within the 4A ranks again, and they should be joined by Catawba Ridge. Fort Mill’s newest high school should have around 850 kids its first year, before ballooning to 1,250 its second year, according to athletic director Rick Lewis.

At the 3A level, things get interesting. Where will Indian Land land? The school has steadily risen thru the classification ranks, moving from 1A in 2010 to 3A in the last realignment thanks to incredible growth in northern Lancaster County. Could the Warriors end up playing 4A sports in 2020?

If so, there could be a local 4A region consisting of Indian Land, Lancaster, South Pointe, Catawba Ridge, and possibly York. Indian Land’s Tal Horton, the school’s former athletic director and current assistant principal, said that if Indian Land didn’t end up in 4A in the next realignment, it would appeal to be placed in 4A for shorter travel and more rivalry opportunities against neighboring schools.

If Indian Land leaves Region 4-3A, it could be replaced by York Prep and possibly Legion. Chester will almost certainly remain in 3A for another realignment cycle.

York Prep and Legion will be taking part in their first realignments as SCHSL member schools. York Prep AD Mike Drummond said his school’s enrollment would make it a 2A school, and YPA has been a conditional member of Region 4-2A the last year. Drummond would love for his school’s sports teams to remain in 2A so they can join Region 4-2A, which includes Buford and Andrew Jackson, but it’s more likely they’ll end up in 3A because of the SCHSL’s rule of bumping charter and private schools up one classification.

Legion currently has 250 students enrolled, a firmly 1A-level enrollment, but if it gets over 400 students or so before the next realignment, it will either end up in 2A, or 3A (if the school is bumped up a classification because it’s a charter).

Lewisville, the smallest school in 2A, will hope for a return to the 1A level.

SCHSL’s last realignment drew criticism from many smaller schools for placing just 30 football-playing schools in the 1A classification and Lewisville might have been one of the loudest voices opposing that move. Each of the other four classifications had at least 40 schools, including 48 in 5A. It’s not clear why the 1A ranks had so many fewer teams, especially when travel distances are already an issue for many of the widely dispersed rural schools. Lewisville’s appeal in 2017 to remain in 1A was denied.

If the Lions returned to 1A in 2020, that would reunite them with rivals Great Falls, which should remain in the state’s smallest classification for the foreseeable future.

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