Rappahannock County High School expects to field varsity and middle-school football teams this fall, says athletic director Jimmy Swindler, plus it will have a new supporter on the sidelines — the Virginia High School League itself.
After two years of discussion and debate, VHSL’s member athletics directors last year approved the most sweeping changes to league divisions and rules that they’ve made in more than 40 years. The changes were, tellingly, least popular among representatives of triple-A school divisions, the state’s largest schools, because they give smaller, single-A schools a fairer shot at success, particularly in postseason play.
“I’m very excited about the plan,” says Swindler. “It will just give the kids reasons to work hard and practice.”
Starting this fall, VHSL’s size divisions — from Rappahannock’s single-A to the largest schools’ triple-A — will be replaced by six VHSL groups, 1A through 6A. RCHS teams will compete in group 1A, whose members are limited to schools of 450 or fewer students in grades nine through 12. (RCHS’ ninth- through 12th-grade population is about 300, among the state’s smallest high school populations.)
Each group is then divided into conferences of between four and eight schools. Rapp’s teams will still compete in geographically-oriented district play during the regular season. (The next largest school in RCHS’ Bull Run District is twice as large as Rappahannock.) But in postseason play, the Panthers’ route to conference and state titles will be against the teams of Conference 43 — to be known as the Rappahannock River Conference.
The Rappahannock River Conference, only two of whose members are not part of the Northern Neck District, is comprised of RCHS, Washington & Lee High School in Arlington, Colonial Beach, Essex, Lancaster, Northumberland and . . . Rappahannock (that’s Rappahannock High School, whose Raiders are based in Warsaw, outside of Richmond).
All of the conference schools have 450 or fewer students.
“The bottom line, at least this year, is that our regular season won’t change,” says Swindler. “We’ll still play the same schools, there will still be a Bull Run District tournament.” The district tournaments will become optional, though, Swindler says, since “the road to state playoffs will start with conference play.”
VHSL also provided a system of credits to offset losses against district opponents of larger size, Swindler says, when it comes time to determine seed positions in conference tournaments.
“We are still the only school in the [Bull Run] District that is 1A,” Swindler said. “Four of the other district schools are 2A, and three are 3A.”
Swindler had much praise for the teams who competed in the just-ended school year’s various varsity, junior varsity and Junior Panther (JP) sports programs.
“We had a state-championship runner,” he says, speaking of soon-to-be-sophomore Julia Wood, who came in first in the 1600-meter at the state tournament (and third in the 3200-meter). “Our JP boys basketball team, with coaches Robbie Thornhill and Wayne Sumner, was undefeated and won a title [the Valley Middle School Conference] that we’ve never won before — but more important than that, they beat [or tied] every public school they played.
“JP volleyball, undefeated,” Swindler continued. “Varsity baseball team winning five games, as many as the team’s won in the last four years, and they’re only losing two seniors this year. I feel very positive about that team.”
Swindler said the varsity football team will be young this coming season — “they lost eight or nine seniors, but they will pick up that many freshmen or more” — but they will be well coached, he said.
And by whom?
“I can tell you only that we are close to bringing in an exciting choice for varsity football coach,” Swindler said. “Stay tuned.”